Every now and then, all of us experience at least some level of conflict in the teams we belong to or manage. Most people are uncomfortable when conflict arises, and they often respond by:
- Trying to ignore it in hopes that it will go away
- Blaming others for it, or
- Complaining to people outside the team about it.
Unfortunately, conflict in the workplace is on the rise. In a recent study of Fortune 100 companies, 46 % of the respondents reported a noticeable increase in conflict in their work environment. With this disturbing trend, a “head in the sand” approach to dealing with it is not a viable option.
The good news is that there are best practices that teams can adopt to significantly reduce the amount of unhealthy conflict that occurs within a team. These best practices promote positive group dynamics, a term first coined by social psychologist Kurt Lewin that describes how team members work together to accomplish team goals. The quality of a team’s group dynamics often determines whether a team’s culture is healthy, with open and constructive communication, or whether the culture is characterized by competition, infighting and excessive deference to authority.
Based on our field research and consulting experience with hundreds of teams in commercial and government sectors, TerconPartners has identified 10 best practices that promote healthy group dynamics and reduce destructive conflict:
1. Assume positive intent
This essentially means that participants choose to go into a meeting assuming everyone has good intentions and is working to the best of their abilities. This sets up the meeting or conversation for collaboration and signals openness to new ways of thinking. If it becomes clear the intentions of another are not positive, you can always shift to a self-protection mode.
2. Give credit where it’s due
Express appreciation for the other team member’s ideas and point out areas of agreement.
3. Elevate team members’ self-esteem
Pay attention to what is being said in meetings and give non-verbal encouragement to the speaker and spur the sharing of ideas.
4. Practice focused listening
Maintain eye contact with the speaker, internally summarizing what is being said, and work to stay focused on the topic.
5. Tolerate differences of opinions and personalities
Be willing to accept behaviors and personality traits different from one’s own.
6. Admit mistakes
Acknowledge one’s mistakes or misjudgments in an open and non-defensive way.
7. Stay focused on the goals of the meeting
Keep the team focused on the problem to be solved, rather than placing blame on others in the meeting or outside the meeting.
8. Communicate openly and honestly
Be willing to share information, thoughts and concerns with the team without “editing” or slanting information for self-protection.
9. Paraphrase proceedings of meeting
Check understanding of what has been said by summarizing ideas and comments so that messages are clearly understood by all.
10. Keep an open mind
Communicate your willingness to consider a range of points of view in order to achieve the team’s goals, both verbally and nonverbally.
A certain level of conflict is inevitable and, in many cases, can be healthy. However, if left unchecked and ignored, that conflict can become disruptive and counter-productive. Adopting the best practices above to effectively reduce conflict can set your teams up for success!