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Coping With Conflict

How Teams Resolve Their Inevitable & Necessary Conflict 

Conflict ManagementResolving conflict constructively is the most critical of team skills. Without this ability, the team cannot develop the trust and bonding that allows moving from the Storming stage into peak performance. Conflict resolution is not a stand-alone skill. There are specific techniques and attitudes that are helpful, but conflict resolution interrelates with other skills.

Teamwork usually evokes a vague mental picture of cooperation and polite discussion. However, true teams exhibit a high level of social structure. Their members have specific behaviors that move the group towards specific goals.

An absence of overt conflict, for example, is often mistaken for teamwork. But conflict is natural, even desirable. If conflict is not visible, either people are thinking alike or they have suppressed conflict. Neither situation is helpful.

Effective teams gain power from divergent thinking, attitudes and experience. Without this variety, conflict is lessened but the results are less effective. Teams that suppress conflict also lose effectiveness and the conflict eventually erupts in destructive ways. 


Learned Conflict Skills

Communication Skills

Good communication skills prevent conflict or destructive escalation. Many of us do not communicate well. Sometimes our body language does not fit our verbal messages creating a cognitive dissonance in the listener. We may personalize issues. We may criticize people rather than actions, behaviors, or situations.

Conflict ResolvedListening effectively is the other half of good communication. The most common deficiency is letting our mind race ahead of the speaker's voice. We may use this speed difference to formulate responses or defenses. Or we may allow our mind to wander on other subjects and miss part of what is said. This is, at best, frustrating for the speaker. It also leads to misunderstandings. Team members must train their minds to focus on words and message until the speaker finishes. Only then should they analyze and formulate a response.


Problem Solving

Problem solving skills define a problem, gather information, analyze the information, synthesize solutions, select the best solution, and implement it. These activities occur in distinct steps and in an orderly and structured way.

Without good problem solving skills people jump to conclusions. The conclusions that various people jump to are often wildly different. Without a factual basis, the discussion turns to who is "wrong" and who is "right" with an undertone of who is "OK" or "Not OK". Problem solving avoids conflict with structure and consensus.

Teams can also bring problem solving directly to bear on a conflict. They treat the conflict as a problem, gather information, analyze, search for solutions, and implement.

Conflict Resolution Skills

Intervention occurs when parties to a conflict are confronted. In the mildest form, a team member quietly and separately points out the situation to one or more of the individuals involved. In the strongest intervention the entire team confronts the conflicted parties much as friends and relatives might confront an addict.

Feedback is an effective conflict resolution technique. In feedback, one individual confronts another in a structured setting with a carefully crafted statement. A feedback statement goes like this:

  • "When you...(Describe The Behavior)"

  • "I feel...(Describe Your Emotion)"

  • "Because...(Describe The Reason For the Emotion)"

  • "What do you think" (Wait For Response)

An example would be: "Jim, when you are late for meetings it makes me angry because your tardiness wastes everyone's time and prevents our team from conducting its business. What do you think?" The addressee of the feedback statement must then respond in a structured way. A facilitator governs and controls the process.

Feedback is powerful. It defuses anger and brings rationality to a discussion. Feedback and Intervention are only two of many conflict resolution techniques.

Other Skills That Prevent Conflict

Other team skills have a collateral effect of avoiding or mitigating conflict. Time management prevents arguments about who does what and when. Cross training prevents boredom and prevents conflict over workloads. Facilitation controls meetings and reduces frustration over wasted time.

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