4 Steps to Resolve Any Team Conflict

January 1, 2019

Let's be real. There will be a point in your life when you must work in a team. Whether it’s a school group project, an association officer team, or a department assignment at a future job, it is imperative that you are equipped with the knowledge on how to deal with team conflict. Your best friend may be on that team, but so may your worst enemy. No matter what, a team must unite to achieve its common goal. Although teams have the potential to accomplish influential things, conflict is inevitable. By following these four easy steps, you and your team members will be able to resolve any conflict that comes your way.

Step 1: The best way to work on “us” is to start with “me”

When we get into disagreements with teammates, our motives can shift very quickly without realizing it. Sometimes, we approach a conversation with a certain set of motives, but the other person’s response or actions incite emotions that offend or hurt us. Judgement is then clouded by this emotion and we react without regard for our original intentions. For example, you might enter the conversation trying to solve a problem, but wind up focusing on attacking, embarrassing or trying to win the argument instead on fixing the problem. When preparing to talk to a teammate about an important issue, be sure to keep your goals in view. Your goal is never to “win” the disagreement. Think about your true end goal and then think about what you hope to get out of the conversation.

Step 2: Remember that there are more than two outcomes

Often in team situations, we encounter difficult decisions that seem to have nothing to offer but negative outcomes or that it’s one person’s opinion vs. another. It’s very easy to assume that when faced with two options, there are only two possible outcomes. For example, your group leader is about to make a decision that could negatively impact the group. You could assume that you have two options. Option 1: You speak with your team leader. They reverse their decision but get angry at you and hold a grudge. Option 2: You don’t say anything and deal with the negative effects of a poor decision. In reality, there are an infinite number of outcomes, positive and negative. There is rarely a concrete “right” or “wrong.” The only way to get to the possible outcomes, though, is to open up an honest, respective discussion. As leaders, it’s our job to seek out the best possible situations for our groups and for ourselves.

Step 3: Make it safe

Establish a positive space so both sides will feel comfortable to share their ideas and perspectives without being scared to be harshly shutdown or belittled. In order to have a constructive conversation, people generally need to feel that they are in a "safe space," – a space where they can take the risks involved in honest communication about meaningful issues. You can accomplish this by asking questions to show that you’re genuinely concerned with their point of view. Your intent should be genuine in seeking to understand the other person’s point of view. Be ready to respond with compassion. Be interested in how the other person sees the situation differently than you do. Your goal should be to spend more time listening than talking.

Step 4: Master your story 

Carefully analyze your stance and be sure to avoid making assumptions. Nine times out of 10, the real conflict is about feelings, not facts. You can argue about facts all day, but everyone has a right to his or her own feelings. Owning your own feelings, and caring about others', is key to talking about conflict. Our minds jump to conclusions about why people act a certain way instead of focusing why their action is causing a conflict. For example, a group member may get upset with a statement another member made, not because of the statement itself, but because of the perceived intentions behind the statement. This is why it is essential to be true to yourself about what exactly is bothering you before questioning and discussing with a fellow team member. Own up. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict. Do a little self-reflection before talking it out with the other party.

Whether you enjoy it or not, teamwork truly does make the dream work. A group of inspired individuals who share a similar goal can solve just about any problem thrown their way. Although conflict may seem unavoidable, it does not have to be negative! Approach each new situation not as a battle, but as an opportunity to learn and grow from each other.


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