Leadership Strategies for Dealing with Team Conflict

Conflict is normal and sometimes necessary to progress. Many people view conflict as negative but, in reality, it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it has the potential to bring mission-critical issues to light. After all, conflict is often the result of misaligned expectations, so dealing with conflict the right way can strengthen team communication and improve culture.

The key to productive conflict is the ability to resolve it effectively. Here are 7 ways you can do exactly that:

1. Discuss how you will handle conflict before it happens.

Have a process in place on how to resolve conflict before there is conflict. Openly discuss with team members the best way to resolve conflicts. Design a protocol and define ground rules based on the discussion. Take the extra step of creating a short list of key points to serve as reminders for the team. Keep it simple!

Learning from conflict is the best of all experiences. It brings out the true shine in our souls.
— Alexa Rosa

2. Stay out of it.

As a leader, it is likely your team will come to you to help resolve their conflicts. Push back; avoid trying to mediate team conflicts. Instead, train your team to be able to work out their own conflicts. Besides, working out differences and conflicts is part of being an effective employee and leader. Coach your team members on how they can resolve their own conflicts by using the protocol and strategies that you and your team developed in step one.

You should not have to rip yourself into pieces to keep others whole.

3. Leaders should avoid taking sides.

People tend to side with the person who brought the issue up first. Since you hear their perspective first, it creates a bias. As a leader, it is best that you maintain an unbiased point of view. However, you want to guide team members back to resolving the issue themselves and to figure out a mutually agreeable solution.

It takes both sides to build a bridge.
— Fredrick Nael

4. Don't let the conflict fester too long.

The longer you let the conflict sit without addressing it, the more time the conflict has to take root and allow people to develop unnecessary hostility. This can be a hindrance to team morale and overall productivity. It’s in everyone’s best interest to resolve conflicts as soon as possible.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

5. Encourage people in conflict to stop and cool off.

When tempers flare, it is best stop and cool off as quickly as possible. To mitigate real-time conflicts quickly and efficiently, encourage all parties to step away. If you’re in an office building, suggest a walk outside. If you’re in a meeting, take a break and give everyone time to breathe. Encourage parties to reengage once both have completely cooled off and are ready to resolve the situation in good faith.

There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.
— Dr. Denis Waitley

6. Get folks to work on common ground.

If people can’t see eye to eye because of a conflict, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to work together until it is resolved. To get people back on track, start from common ground. All parties might not agree on everything, but have them start talking about what they do agree on.

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.

7. Hire a professional mediator.

In some conflict situations, it’s best to use a professional mediator. Professional workplace mediators can help conflicting parties come up with agreements that they would not be able to work out on their own and allow them to move on and be productive in addition to learning new skills and tactics moving forward.

Either works: meditate or mediate.

Please add to the conversation—comment below or on Twitter at @gregbellspeaks.