Posted: Nov 25 2015

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Conflict is unavoidable; it is everywhere we go because there are always going to be differing opinions and perspectives. Whilst conflict is inevitable, it is not a conflict that will make or break a team, but how it is managed. Regardless of how many team building or development events you attend, handle conflict in the wrong way and your team may well collapse.

Conflict can often be healthy for a team – encouraging personal opinion and welcoming new ideas to the table is beneficial for the team to grow and evolve. However, allowing discussions and debates to turn into serious disagreements, clashes and slanging matches is quite the opposite.

Don’t Fear Conflict

There are many different styles of managing conflict: avoidance, yielding, competitivity, cooperation and conciliation. Avoidance tactics involve ignoring the situation and hoping it will resolve itself, not taking control of the situation at hand.  Those who yield in times of conflict will put everyone else’s needs before their own, bowing to pressure. Those who have a competitive conflict resolution style ‘win’ arguments by asserting perceived authority in order to get what they want. Cooperation resolution leans towards a win-win situation for all parties involved. Conciliation tactics are geared towards a fair compromise between opposing sides. 

(Sorenson, Morse and Savage, 1999)

Whilst each resolution style is dependent on the personality of whoever has to deal with the situation, in the workplace, conflict resolution must be dealt with in confidence and have a constructive outcome.  In order to fully resolve conflict, we must understand why conflict happens. John Burton suggests that Human Needs Theory is behind almost all conflict: “Humans have basic needs that have to be met… those needs not being met leads to aggression and conflict.” These needs are security, identity, recognition and development. Indeed, this reinforces the definitive hierarchy of needs – psychological, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. It is, therefore, recommended that the best conflict management style for the workplace is a diplomatic one full of compromise and understanding.

Plan, Listen, Understand

To handle conflict, a manager should be prepared to compromise, communicate and have a plan of action. Firstly, they must acknowledge that the conflict exists. Call a meeting and discuss the impact of the clash and the effect it has on the team as a whole. All parties must agree that the team should come first and use this as a starting foundation.

Secondly, you must understand, where concerned, all parties perspectives. Clarify their points of view and the reasoning behind it. This may be because of their job role, or because they have facts and data to back up their proposal. Be open to all suggestions, remove emotion from each argument and remember to stay in control. 

It is important to weigh up your options, look at the pros and cons of each argument and decide on a way forward as a team. If this is not possible at this stage, negotiate and compromise until an agreement can be made. Once a decision has been made, recognise the merits of each original point and make a note of the ideas on the table - they may be valuable for future discussions and the staff members involved will feel safe in their role, despite not ‘winning’ this conflict.

Once you can successfully resolve conflict and come out the other side with a happy and productive team, your team will feel a lot more united – you will have turned conflict into a positive team building exercise – and this is something to be celebrated.
Reward your workforce with a team building event to cement this new found sense of camaraderie – Team Challenge Co have multiple options available to suit your needs. Contact us for more information.

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