Strong teams often have team members with strong personalities. Learn how to build your team’s conflict resolution skills.
More often than not, high-performing teams operate in high-pressure environments. And many times on a high-performing team, you have some strong personalities at play. When you combine pressure and strong personalities there are plenty of opportunities for conflict between the members of your team. Your job as a leader is not to mediate those conflicts and be a referee. Instead, you need to teach the members of your team how to resolve those conflicts with one another. It’s going to help them build relationships and interpersonal skills. It also keeps you from having to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy every time somebody has a conflict with another member of the team.
Your job, when there’s conflict, is first to recognize it. Identify when you have team members who are butting heads and figure out what the root issue is. Then you should suggest that they go figure it out and come back to you when they’ve developed a solution on their own. Hopefully if they’re really high performers, they can go in a room, hash it out, and come up with a solution that will be acceptable to both of them. However, there will be certain opportunities for you to get involved and teach them how to resolve conflict better.
When you do so, first sit them down and acknowledge the conflict. “Hey look, I know you have a problem with this perspective that the other individual has.” Get to the root of the issue and focus on the facts. Here are the facts; let’s remove the emotions from it. What do we disagree on? Have them define a goal for resolution and what the desired behaviors should be in terms of how they perform with one another. Drive it to the level of specific behaviors where they had points of difference with one another. Teach them how to give constructive feedback to one another going forward so they can apply it in their day-to-day conversations with each other.
There will be times where they won’t be able to resolve the conflict on their own. In those situations you’re going to need to mediate that conflict, but this is a last resort. If they can’t resolve the issue, talk them through the resolution but do so one step at a time. Don’t just jump to the end and say, “I know what the answer is. Here’s my decision. Go make it happen.” Because you’re not building their skills in doing so. Instead, talk them through it. “Okay, what’s the issue?” Have them describe it and figure it out. Then ask, “What are the emotions that are involved here and why are those emotions coming up?” And they’ll talk through that. Then ask them, “How are those emotions getting in the way of a resolution?”
So for each step of the conflict resolution process, all the way through identifying alternatives and desired behaviors and then coming to a decision they can live with, you should walk them through the conversation rather then just giving them the answers. At the end, when they’ve identified a solution that’s acceptable to both of them, get their commitment to resolving the issue that way. More importantly, set expectations for the next time there’s conflict between them. You want them to go through this process on their own before they involve you to mediate the conflict. By doing so, you’re going to build their skills and their capabilities, you’ll spend less time mediating conflict going forward, and your team members will be able to focus more on execution than arguing.
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