Many managers see conflict resolution as an aggravating chore, one that stands in the way of their “real” goals. But when team conflicts are handled effectively, they can result in better communication, greater team bonding, and increased motivation and productivity. In other words, if the “real” job is meeting the business’s goals, conflict resolution isn’t an obstacle – it’s an opportunity.
Why Do Team Conflicts Occur?
Whether they seem to involve clashing values, attitudes, expectations, or personalities, all conflicts have one thing in common: the people involved care about the outcome of the dispute. This emotional investment creates the conflict, but it also offers an opportunity for managers to leverage each participant’s “stake” in order to create a constructive result.
Any team conflict can take one of two paths:
- Destructive conflicts fail to solve the problem or reach a decision. They divert energy away from the team’s goals and damage the morale of the team. Fear of destructive conflict makes many people conflict-avoidant, which can make destructive results more likely.
- Constructive conflicts find a solution that team members can live with. They encourage personal change and growth among team members, increase the involvement of those who care about the outcome, and build cohesiveness among the team. Effective managers strive to guide conflict down constructive paths instead of destructive ones.
How to “Constructivize” Team Conflicts
How can managers make team conflicts more constructive? While conflict resolution awareness and training can help team members minimize their own problems, when a conflict actually occurs, managers with true leadership potential stand out by proactively guiding the conflict into constructive channels. Here are some key steps for facilitating constructive conflict resolution:
- Focus on the conflict. Reduce distractions by pulling staff members aside to discuss a conflict, rather than attempting to solve it as they work or in front of the entire team.
- Listen. Remember, affected team members are facing a conflict because they care about the outcome in some way. What is it that matters to them? The more you know about the “stake” each one has, the better equipped you are to find a mutually agreeable solution.
- Communicate. Make it clear that the manager’s role is to find a solution that allows the team to meet its goals – not to “take sides” or punish anyone for “starting it.” Encourage staff members to contribute to finding the solution.
- Be consistent and follow through. If the manager agrees to make a change or to take another step to solve the problem, this should be done quickly. Follow up to make sure problems are solved and team members are back on track.
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