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  • Writer's pictureAmii Barnard-Bahn

Conflict Doesn't Have To Bite

When I was leading teams as a corporate exec, I was committed to creating an environment where everyone felt valued and understood. I wanted the best ideas brought to light.

This approach, of course, is easier said than done. An honest sharing of ideas and opinions can lead to conflict. Everyone has different working styles and preferences, and those are exacerbated when colleagues disagree on the best course of action. 

Conflict is a part of being human and it is essential to greatness. It is required to innovate, breakthrough, and solve. It's something we can't, and we shouldn't try to, eliminate. 

Let’s talk about how conflict is showing up with your team, and how you can leverage it for good use!

During the pandemic, my clients have been telling me that conflict is surfacing more frequently. They feel physically disconnected from their teams, and with the rapid change curve we’re living through, small issues can easily flare up. To help, I’ve been running an increased number of team workshops for my clients to help accelerate their productivity and reduce anxiety.

One team was experiencing major dysfunction through a series of leaders who had excluded the team from key decisions and communications, and on top of that, had micromanaged their work. Morale and productivity were low. HR brought me in to support a strong start for the new executive taking over the team. Through the workshop, the new exec and I rebuilt trust and a safety zone for speaking up. The executive and the team members learned each other’s work styles and priorities, agreed on standards of behavior, and have built more effective relationships both with their new boss and with others across the team.

Another team had been operating under duress from toxic behavior from within. There were some strong and direct personalities, and more reserved team members didn’t feel comfortable speaking up, feeling unappreciated and silenced. Half of the team had shut down, going into conflict avoidance mode. I was brought in to facilitate a fresh start. We increased emotional intelligence skills and agreed on new standards of behavior to enable a healthy team culture. The team members learned to identify and curb destructive behaviors and became comfortable talking through the tough issues that were formerly undiscussable, vastly improving business results and working relationships. 

When teams can handle conflict in a productive way, they improve collaboration, empathy, and get better results with less anxiety and hurt feelings. Since they know each other’s preferences, they are equipped to anticipate each person’s needs and navigate those differences with ease. 

When I worked in HR, we tried to facilitate solutions like this. But it never worked as well as bringing in someone from the outside. As internal HR people, it was tough to be truly objective (we always had some inside information that was hard to set aside), and employees didn’t fully trust that they could be forthcoming with the same people that oversaw compensation and succession planning. 

For positive change to take place, the facilitator has to create a psychological safety zone.

A good external coach is always going to be more effective in these situations – they are independent, not an embedded part of the system that has “created” the problem. 

Here are some signs that your team needs conflict resolution strategies:

  • The same few people dominate decisions and discussions

  • Individual team members fight for their personal goals, ignoring organizational well-being 

  • There is a lack of understanding and accepting differences in work styles

  • Team members stop participating and are simply complying

  • Business decisions have become personalized, resulting in resentment or hurt feelings

If you want to improve team results and reduce stress, making conflict work for you instead of against everyone, let’s talk. I’ll share with you how we can change your team’s relationship with conflict so that each team member knows how they are wired to respond and how they can shift the way they handle conflict in the workplace to improve relationships. 

Unresolved conflict is costly! The negative behaviors that happen when conflict is unaddressed – like backbiting, negativity, arguments, and unnecessary tension – can be reduced or eliminated with the right tools and coaching.

(Another cool byproduct of this experience is that you can apply these strategies to your personal relationships as well as your professional ones.)

Just send me a note here, and we’ll find time.

Take care, and stay well.

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