Unresolved Conflict Could Kill Your Team

Are you a conflict avoider? That could really work against you in a team leader role. And it’s unhealthy for your team not to deal with conflict situations — which are inevitable when you have more than one person involved in a situation. Conflict is not a bad thing. Unresolved conflict is a bad thing. It can undermine all the good work you and your team try to do.


I believe that conflict is created from miscommunication and assumptions. If we teach people how to really listen instead of just “waiting out their turn to talk,” conflict could be dramatically reduced. The power of communication is in listening, not talking. Make sure that your team gets some good quality listening training and on the job practice to minimize the opportunity for conflict.

Here’s a great process you can use for a conflict discussion. Make sure you identify ground rules for the discussion right at the beginning. You can have the participants come up with a few and add some yourself where you think there might be problems. A key ground rule should be to attack the problem, not the person. Post the ground rules in clear view and then enforce them throughout the session.

Use these steps to follow the conflict discussion process:

  • Describe the conflict in neutral terms.
  • Develop a list of alternative ways to resolve the conflict — or agree to disagree, agreeably.
  • Evaluate the alternatives to determine a “win-win” outcome.
  • Establish an action plan to implement the solution.

Do not allow participants to cop out during this discussion. If they say something won’t work, they should be held accountable for offering an alternative solution.

How about you? Do you have a process you use to resolve conflict situations?

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. She gets a lot of joy from working with teams and their leadership to help them improve and work through team issues. Not only does her advice come from the heart, it comes from years of experience working as a team member, team leader, manager and owner of her own company. She has truly walked in your shoes and offers help so you can be a better team leader. You can find more advice from Denise at her website askteamdoc and don't forget to follow her on Twitter @askteamdoc.

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