Dealing With Unhealthy Conflict
Conflict is inevitable.
Whenever we put people together for any purpose conflict naturally emerges. As individuals we are exquisitely made with unique skills, talents, abilities, interests, goals, styles, objectives, likes and dislikes. We are human. Thus, we have conflict.
While the points below may seem a bit simplistic, they should provide you with a basic framework to deal with unhealthy conflict. Every team, every challenge, every situation is different, but these guidelines will assist you when the “us vs. them” mindset creeps in.
Even when we are banded together by a common denominator (i.e., “I work in the Marketing department, or maybe it’s the Accounting department, or you fill in the blank department”), we now have a potentially different level and type of conflict. For example, Staff from Sales and those from Marketing may have a clash of ideas.
Competing goals. Competing interests. Competing resources. This list goes on and on.
The challenge for all leaders: What do we do to address conflicting beliefs and behaviors that are potentially harmful?
It would be easy to say just give them all a common goal and harmony will take over. Fat chance. The idea of everyone working for the same target should make all “behave the right way”, right? It’s never that simple nor does it happen.
Identifying the goal is the first step. Engage staff members in the goal-setting process. When you can, require everyone to give some input. Use SMART goal setting techniques to help this process. A collaborative approach will help to foster the camaraderie the team needs. Less room for the “blame game” when they have been part of the goal identification.
Step two: Clearly communicate the goal to everyone and make sure they truly understand it. Does everyone grasp what WE are trying to accomplish? Does everyone understand their individual role? Can we have shared responsibilities so that we understand what others are doing? Can we let them walk in someone else’s shoes as part of this accomplishment?
Next up: Clear the way of competing resources. Make sure everyone has what they need to get their part of the job done. Don’t sacrifice one part to serve another. Make sure the resources are allocated based upon need. Do team members have what they need to get their part done? Focus everyone on the goal and solutions, not the problems.
Recognize and celebrate accomplishments along the way. Don’t wait until the journey is over to look back. Look around continually for opportunities to recognize and reward great teamwork. Celebrate it and celebrate them. Pizza for lunch today. Bring an ice cream truck to the parking lot when the project is finished. Send a hand-written note home to family members to let them know their loved one’s contribution is valued & appreciated. Keep your eyes and ears open for any hints of conflict –whether it is open conflict or subtle conflict.
Check on everyone without being overbearing. Schedule regular “check-in” meetings to monitor progress and address concerns as soon they surface. Don’t allow the opportunity for issues to linger or smolder.