It’s a workplace epidemic. Poor conflict skills are hurting business teams at every level.
We’ve all been there:
You notice a problem but it feels “nicer” to avoid confrontation. But “nice” can’t stop the problem from continuing or resentment from growing … before long emotions are festering… until someone blows up!
Now a moment of misunderstanding has become an emergency.
Not only do poorly managed conflicts damage team unity, interpersonal trust, and communication—but they hurt the bottom line!
The American economy has lost billions, yes billions, of dollars of work hours to unresolved arguments at work. The top offenders?
- Personality clashes
- Stress levels
- Workload amount
- Poor leadership
- Lack of honesty
Do any of these sound familiar? Well, thankfully your team isn’t alone.
It’s just a fact that not every belief and behavior is going to line up.
That’s why leaders need a plan for discussing conflict with the individual member(s)—and realigning the powerful pull of the team.
So how does it happen? Here are 4 steps to facilitate your next workplace conflict:
Understand the Specifics
Instead of entering the conflict with guns blazing generalities—“You’re delivering the wrong results! Do something about it!”—help each listener understand the specifics.
Break the problem into tangible pieces—only then can you create tangible steps back to cohesion and reconciliation.
Watch out for ad hominem attacks, personal grudges, or conflict of personality.
Identify what expectations are unmet, how the team member might have gotten off the trail, and where the disconnect actually lies. It may be a simpler fix than you think.
Assume Better not Worse
Many people interpret correction or confrontation as an assault or a rejection of them as a person. Biting assumptions about their intentions immediately backs that team member into a corner.
And when anyone gets cornered, they will almost always lash out for self-preservation.
You’ll be amazed at how giving people the benefit of the doubt clears the way for honest communication.
Ask for Perspective
For years I’ve taught on using the “sandwich method” for confrontation—where you affirm the person (bread), deal with the issue (meat), affirm the person, their contribution / value (bread) and set points of accountability and clarity around future behavior.
When asked, genuinely, for their point of view, they are more likely to feel seen as a whole—even to return the favor.
De-escalate the conversation by putting yourself in their shoes. It’s harder to argue when you know you are affirmed.
Rediscover the Trail
After you’ve identified where someone has lost the trail (or maybe the trail went somewhere without their knowledge) don’t leave them wandering!
Most of the time, sharing your lens and the desired lens of the future will be enough to start the change process.
If a team member continues to engage in divisive behaviors or continues to hold onto beliefs that are contrary to the team and harmful to progress then we’ll need to increase the intensity and frequency of the confrontation.
A last resort: you may recommend that they run for a different team. And that’s ok.
To move forward, everyone has to pull in one direction—one purpose, one goal, one team.
Craft New Expectations
I mention all the time that frustration happens when expectation meets reality.
Here’s our reality—conflict happens. As long as your team works together, you will experience miscommunication, clash of opinion, and other conflicts. But it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s an opportunity.
When your team members can expect purposeful, balanced, and thoughtful conflict assistance they are free to do their best work. They are free to communicate. They are free to ask questions.
They can lean into a unified, positive, and purposeful culture.
If we value the mission and we value the players on the team—we can’t do without these resolution skills.