"What is he thinking?"
"I can't believe she thinks this is a good idea."
"This is a terrible approach! My way is so much better!"
You'll eventually face it one way or another: your team failing to collaborate, conflicts arising from clashes in personality, work grinding to a halt amidst roadblocks, miscommunication, emotional upheaval. When everything is flowing and work is going smoothly, it's easy to forget that the team unit is still made up of individuals with very specific needs and personalities. And that sometimes those needs are not met within the work setting, resulting in conflicts and other woes.
Conflict management is a huge topic, encompassing management, psychology, neuroscience, and more — which is why it's impossible to tackle everything in one go. But it is still quite useful to touch on some general pointers that may be useful in your future conflict resolution.
What is Conflict and Where Does it Come From?
The most common source of team conflict and project roadblocks is differing psychological needs. E.g.: One team member may need to keep working within his comfort zone, while another may need to experiment and try something new. When differing needs start to show, and a power play ensues as to whose objectives will be met, conflict begins. Things to remember:
- Conflicts come up when there is a perceived threat. It doesn't matter if the threat is or isn't real. If a threat is perceived, trouble brews.
- Conflicts don't go away unless faced. If they're ignored and never resolved, they will continue to trouble us — simply because our minds are in fight-or-flight survival mode.
- Participants in a conflict have no objectivity. We can only respond to conflicts based on our perceptions of the situation — and perceptions are colored by our unique upbringing, our values, our culture, and beliefs.
- Conflicts are emotional. There will be drama. If you can't manage your own emotions under duress, you won’t be able to resolve your (or other people's) conflicts.
- Conflicts have a silver lining. Conflicts that are resolved lead to trust and build stronger relationships. They are opportunities for growth.
Quick Pointers for Conflict Resolution
If you're ever going to successfully resolve conflict, you must be able to:
- Keep calm. If you're agitated, you will resolve nothing.
- Stay alert! If you're attentive, you can read the situation and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Communicate without threatening. Look, you're all feeling threatened already. Talking like a fascist dictator will only frighten everyone more. No one will listen to you. Don't forget that your nonverbal communication is as important as your words.
- Respect all differences. Keep your language and your tone neutral, and avoid disrespectful words. You won't solve problems by calling people "idiots" and "drama queens."
- Use humor, carefully. A well-timed, non-insulting joke can defuse a situation faster than anything. But it's a gamble.
- Be generous. Keep in mind that resolving the conflict is more important for the working relationship than "winning" the fight. Which is why generosity is needed. Know when to let go of grudges. Know when to forgive and forget. Learn to hear the apology that was never said.
In the end, if you're involved in a team conflict and want to resolve it, the quickest way out is to face it head-on — not with fists clenched ready for a bloody brawl, but with palms wide open ready to forgive. Not with a stubborn "I'm always right" attitude, but with a calm, "we will work this out" attitude.
Workplace Conflict Isn't Uncommon
Have you successfully resolved conflict in the workplace before? Any pointers for us? Hit the comments.
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