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Workplace team conflict: Avoidance is an option, just not the best one

Whether it be disagreement regarding how to approach a task, internal strife surrounding power dynamics, or simply mutual dislike, some form of conflict will arise in most teams. How effectively a team navigates conflict tends to distinguish the great teams from the average ones, yet many teams avoid addressing conflict, preferring to suppress it, rationalize it or complain about it elsewhere. As team effectiveness specialists and human beings working to increasingly understand our own selves, we have encountered our fair share of conflicts, both large scale and small. What follows are few insider tips:

Conflict is an opportunity

In work as in life, conflict is an opportunity to understand one another and move forward with more creativity, as well as an opportunity for personal growth and development. Importantly, it is also a litmus test that determines the strength and resilience of any relationship. A team that quickly resorts to name calling, back stabbing or quiet, seething rage and resentment during meetings reveals a core weakness, one that will likely derail any project. Therefore, in the face of conflict, develop a mindset of appreciation, gratitude and discovery. Recognize conflict as a tool your team can use to uncover unhealed wounds, foster growth, express appreciation and change ineffective behaviours.

No shame, no blame

Conflict does not mean anyone has done anything wrong. Shaming and blaming, while sometimes emotionally satisfying, tends to shut down both creative and critical thinking. When people feel targeted, fear and the desire for reprisal take over, which effectively signals the death of listening. During conflict, judgment will appear. Acknowledge your judgment of yourself and others, and then do not act from it. This opens the door to true communication – listening, and being heard. Often, when conflict is approached as an opportunity rather than an indication of wrongdoing, true growth and exciting innovation results.

You don’t have to like each other to work together

Our experience has shown that many teams harbor the deep and destructive misunderstanding that their members need to be personal friends in order to work together effectively. This could not be farther from the truth. Rather, it is possible to dislike a team member personally yet still complete tasks, solve problems and achieve goals. Drop the misconception that someone you work with regularly must also be someone you like or admire. Instead, simply treat team members with professional respect and courtesy. When and if your personal dislike arises, allow it to be there – do not allow it to interfere with the task at hand. This will not be comfortable; however, it will certainly mark the first step towards creating and maintaining a healthy team.

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Nikoleta & Associates

Business Strategists, Leadership Development Designers, Executive Coaches at Nikoleta & Associates
With an attitude that encourages growth, Nikoleta & Associates provides executive coaching, leadership development and change management services to clients in multiple industries including construction, consumer packaged goods, professional services, technology, financial services and health care. Through their blog posts, the dynamic team at Nikoleta & Associates offers practical advice for organizations on effective leadership strategies that align to business goals.Read more
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