Conflict Resolution Training: How To Manage Team Conflict In Under 6 Minutes!
How to Handle Group Conflict
When you’re working with a group of other people, conflicts are bound to arise from time to time. Conflict is natural in a group setting, and, if it’s managed effectively, it can even be healthy for the group. If you find yourself embroiled in a group conflict, don’t panic. Take time to assess the root causes of the conflict, and work with the rest of the group to clear up any misunderstandings. Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of the issue, put your heads together and brainstorm solutions that work for everyone.
Help Handling Conflict
Identifying the Nature of the Conflict
Acknowledge the conflict.Ignoring conflict in a group setting will not make it go away. Resentments that are left to simmer will likely become worse, possibly leading to a major argument or causing the group to fall apart. If you notice that there is a problem in your group, immediately take stock of the situation and start looking for an underlying cause.
- Conflict typically begins when members of the group feel frustrated with one another.This could lead either to direct confrontation or more passive-aggressive forms of conflict (e.g., one or more members of the group ignoring another member or complaining about them behind their back).
Talk to members of the group to find out what’s going on.One of the fastest ways to get to the bottom of a group dispute is to ask the people involved what’s happening. If they don’t approach you first, try taking some of the key players aside and talking to them about it.
- For example, you might say, “Vanessa, I’ve noticed that there’s been some tension between you, Orlo, and Bertie lately. Is something going on?”
- Try to talk to people on both sides of the conflict. This may give you a clearer and more balanced impression of what is happening.
- If the conflict is causing major problems in the group, it may be helpful to talk to someone who has witnessed the conflict, but is not directly involved. They might have a more objective perspective than people who are wrapped up in the conflict.
Determine if faulty communication is at play.Poor communication is a common cause of group conflict.Observe how the members of the group communicate with each other, and ask yourself:
- Are the members of the group openly and honestly expressing their concerns to one another, or are they avoiding discussion of the problem area?
- Are members of the group criticizing one another inappropriately (e.g., blaming or engaging in character attacks rather than offering constructive criticism)?
- Are all group members making an effort to listen actively to each other and hear and understand what other members of the group are saying?
- Do members of the group feel ignored, devalued, or attacked?
Look for errors of attribution.Attribution errors occur when people make mistaken assumptions about someone’s behaviors or motives. This can happen in situations where people aren’t communicating effectively. Examine the assumptions that people involved in the conflict are making about each other, and consider whether they are accurate.
- For example, other members of the group might assume that Susan consistently shows up late to meetings because she is lazy or doesn’t care about the group, when it is actually because she is being delayed by another commitment.
- In these situations, you may need to do some investigating to find out what’s really happening. For example, if you hear other members of the group saying that Susan is lazy because she’s always late, try asking Susan directly what is causing her lateness.
Check for mistrust and grudges.Sometimes, people’s personal prejudices or past experiences lead to conflict in a group. Perhaps 1 or more members of your team have a personal grudge against another, or a group member’s past behavior has led others to believe they are unreliable. When this happens, it’s hard for the group to function in a healthy way.
- For example, if Roger dropped the ball on a previous project, other members of the team may refuse to entrust him with important tasks.
- Try to determine whether any mistrust within the group is justified or the result of a personal grudge. For example, if Roger is working hard now to pull his weight in the group, the other group members may still be nursing old resentments. If he is continuing to make similar mistakes and letting things lapse, their concerns may be valid.
Watch out for personality clashes.Sometimes, people just don’t get along. Group conflict can arise from something as simple as members of your team getting on each other’s nerves. Observe your group closely, or listen for complaints that suggest personality conflicts might be at work.
- For example, maybe Jordan is bubbly and outgoing, while Michelle is reserved and quiet. When they work together, they may end up frustrated and annoyed with one another.
Find out if group members have conflicting needs.Clashes can also happen when members of the group have conflicting needs or behavioral styles that don’t mesh well together. Even if they get along fine on a personal level, they may find working together irritating, distracting, or even impossible.
- For example, maybe Lucy needs to work in complete silence, while Felix concentrates best while listening to music on his headphones and humming along.
Determine if you are part of the conflict.In many cases, this may be obvious. However, if communication in a group is poor, you may not know right away that other members of the group are feeling dissatisfied with something you are doing. Think about how your actions (or inactions) may be contributing to group friction, and be honest and objective with yourself.
- You may find it helpful to politely but directly ask other members of the group if they have an issue with something you are doing. For example, “John, I feel like you’ve been avoiding working with me on projects lately. Are you upset with me about something?”
- If you are a group leader, try asking members of the group for feedback. For example, you might ask, “What can I do to be a better boss?” or “How can I help make this project easier for everyone?”
Resolving the Conflict
Get the group together to discuss the issue.In order to resolve a group conflict effectively, you’ll need to make sure everyone is on the same page. Call a meeting of your group, and let everyone know that the purpose of the meeting is to deal with conflict that has come up within the group.
- Briefly summarize the problem, as you understand it. Let the group know that you want to work with them, as a team, to resolve the issue.
- Discuss how the conflict is affecting the group. For example, you might say, “When we don’t distribute tasks evenly, some people end up feeling overwhelmed, and others feel bored and undervalued. That brings down everyone’s morale, and we don’t get as much work done.”
Put a positive spin on the situation.Acknowledge that a little conflict is a healthy thing, and that this situation is an opportunity for growth. Let members of the group know that you appreciate that they care enough about their work or their community to have strong feelings about what happens in the group.
- For example, you might say, “John, it’s great that you are so dedicated to getting this project done on time. Your frustration with how slowly things are moving shows that you’re passionate about your work. And Georgia, I appreciate that you are taking the time to do your work carefully, instead of rushing through it.”
Avoid blaming and labeling group members.Singling out or blaming 1 or a few members of the group is unproductive. Focus on the issues and how to resolve them, rather than on perceived character flaws.
- For example, instead of saying, “Susan, your lack of dedication to this project is really damaging everyone’s productivity,” say something like, “We need to figure out how to distribute our tasks so that we can all work more efficiently together.”
- Avoid writing anyone off with a label. Don’t pigeonhole group members as “toxic,” “lazy,” or “untrustworthy.”
- Even if 1 member of the group is causing most of the problems, address the problems with their behavior and actions, rather than who they are as a person. For example, “Fred, we feel frustrated and our work suffers when you don’t hand in your reports on time.”
Lay some ground rules for resolving the conflict.Let everyone know that the discussion needs to stay civil. You won’t make any progress if your meeting deteriorates into bickering and blaming. Set a few basic rules, and step in and remind people of those rules if things start to get out of hand. For example, your rules might include:
- No name calling or personal attacks.
- Everyone must use “I-statements” when bringing up their concerns (e.g., “When you arrive to meetings late, I feel frustrated and distracted,” rather than “You’re always late! You’re so lazy!”).
- No talking over or interrupting members of the group when they are trying to speak.
Let everyone involved have their say.Give everyone a chance to speak, uninterrupted. Listen actively to what they have to say, and try to consider all sides of the issue objectively.
- Take time to make sure that everyone understands each other. For example, you might say, “Ok, does everyone get why Geoff is frustrated?” Have the other members of the group rephrase the main points of the argument to make sure they understand it correctly.
- If 1 member of the group has been causing problems, give them a chance to explain themselves. For example, "Susan, is something going on that's making it hard for you to arrive on time? Is there anything we can do to help?"
Help group members work around their personal prejudices.If a group is troubled by grudges and personality conflicts, it can be very difficult to resolve or avoid conflicts. The members of the group don’t have to like each other, but it’s important that they are able to set their differences aside and work together. If you have to, take individual players in the conflict aside and talk to them privately. Ask them to:
- Remain civil and polite during interactions with the person they do not get along with.
- Not gossip or complain about the other person with other members of the group.
- Make a conscious effort to make the group atmosphere friendlier and more accepting.
- Accept that there is nothing they can do to change the other person, and channel their energy into more productive areas.
- If necessary, avoid working and interacting directly with the other person as much as possible.
Acknowledge your own role in the conflict.If you know that you have played a part in the conflict, acknowledge your role to both yourself and others in the group. It’s okay to explain your side of things, but try not to make excuses or put the blame on other members of the group.
- For example, you might say, “I know I’ve been falling behind a lot lately, and that’s been slowing everyone down. I think I’ve been taking on too many projects lately. Would it be possible for me to split some of my work up with other team members?”
- If you are a group leader, meet with your team and openly discuss problems the group members may be having with you. Ask them for suggestions on how you can do a better job.
Brainstorm some solutions.Once everyone understands the problem, work together as a team to come up with a solution that works for everyone. This might mean coming up with a compromise.
- For example, if the problem is that 1 member of the group feels overwhelmed, you might split up some of their tasks among other members of the group.
- If the problem stems from conflicting needs, the solution may be as simple as splitting up your group in a new way (for example, the people who enjoy listening to music while they work can team up, while those who prefer quiet can work in a separate space).
- You might find it helpful to break your group up into smaller teams and have each team come up with some solutions separately. When you’re done, get the whole group back together to go over everyone’s ideas.
- If group members in conflict are able to work together civilly, try putting them in the same small group to brainstorm solutions. If not, separate them and let them come up with possible solutions on their own.
- Once you’ve come up with some ideas, have the whole group decide together as a team which solution is best. Try putting it up to a vote. Eliminate any solutions that aren’t feasible before asking the group to vote.
Put your solution(s) into action.Once everyone’s agreed on a solution to the problem, ask everyone on the team to commit to it. Check in with the group occasionally to make sure that the conflict has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
- If problems are still coming up between members of the group, consider meeting again to revise your approach.
- If the conflict has gotten so out-of-hand that it’s impossible to get everyone to have a civil conversation, it may be time to bring in outside help.If it’s a workplace situation, consider hiring a professional mediator. If it’s a school group, you may need to get a teacher or administrator involved.
- If you don’t feel like you have enough influence within the group to get everyone working toward a solution, try bringing up your concerns with a group leader.
Video: Conflict Resolution
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