The ability for you and your team to effectively engage in conflict may not be all that easy or fun, but it’s fundamental to your performance, both individually and collectively.
As important as engaging in conflict is to the culture and performance of your team, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of doing it.
Here are seven things to remember when dealing with a conflict or disagreement—one-on-one, within a group, or within your entire team:
1. Take responsibility. This is not about pointing fingers or figuring out who’s at fault; it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we’re a part of the issue. It’s also about owning our emotions and reactions in an authentic, healthy way.
2. Address the conflict directly. Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you disagree with someone, or when you have an issue to address, but make sure to do so as soon as possible. Don’t let it fester.
3. Seek first to understand. As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding and empathy as possible— even when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person or people are coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.
4. Use “I” statements. If someone does or says something and we have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If we judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something, not only is it factually untrue (it’s just our opinion), it will most likely trigger a defensive response. Using “I” statements allows us to speak from a place of authenticity and ownership, ideally without blame or judgment. There’s a big difference when we say “I’m feeling frustrated” versus “You are frustrating.”
5. Go for a win-win. The only real way to have a conflict resolved authentically is when it’s a true win-win for everyone involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible—we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.
6. Acknowledge others. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a situation that involves a few people, or a discussion that includes the whole team, acknowledgment is essential to resolving conflict effectively. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their courage and their truth. Acknowledgment isn’t about agreement; it’s about honoring and appreciating the willingness to have a tough conversation, which is brave all the way around.
7. Get support and have compassion. Conflicts often bring up fear and cut to the core of our most vulnerable insecurities. Therefore, it’s critical to reach out for authentic support (not necessarily agreement on the topic) from those who can help us work through the issue and resolve it in a healthy and responsible way. It’s also important to have compassion with ourselves and others as we attempt to engage in these conversations. Usually they aren’t fun or easy, but they are necessary for us personally, for our relationships, and for the success of the team.
Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.
* This is an excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published in paperback by Hay House Business, March, 2022