How Leaders Can Help Resolve Conflict

by Granville Triumph

Conflict is inevitable. Whether born of miscommunication, misunderstanding, inflexibility or simple dislike, conflict is a natural part of the human experience. Within high-performing teams, conflict is even more likely to arise due to the strength of individual personalities and the drive for success.

In some instances, conflict can lead to new ideas and better ways of doing things. All too often, however, conflict halts progress, saps productivity and erodes teamwork. As a result, leaders should not allow conflict to fester but rather encourage and facilitate prompt resolution.

Because conflict is inevitable, leaders must be prepared to handle it. That doesn’t mean they should serve as a mediator attempting to negotiate a settlement between the two sides. Instead, strong leaders teach their team members to resolve conflicts themselves.

How do you go about teaching this valuable skill? The first step is to help your team acknowledge that there is conflict and identify its source. If it’s a miscommunication or misunderstanding, what additional information would bring everyone into agreement? If everyone is one the same page, what is the basis for the opposing viewpoints?

In answering these questions, encourage your team to let go of emotion as much as possible and focus on the facts. They should be very specific. One person might say, for example, “When you don’t follow this procedure, it costs me an entire day of rework.” If the other person has a reasonable explanation for not following the procedure, then encourage the two sides to redefine the workflow to everyone’s satisfaction.

Once the specific conflict has been resolved, sit down and discuss lessons learned. Show them how defusing emotions and providing constructive feedback helped them achieve the desired result.

Of course, there will be times when your team is unable to resolve conflict on their own. In those cases, you will have to mediate the conflict as a last resort. But don’t simply jump in and solve the problem for them. Work through the process with them step by step and help them figure out the solution on their own. And set the expectation that they should always attempt to resolve conflict themselves before they involve you.

There are clear benefits to teaching conflict resolution rather than serving as a referee. If nothing else, it saves you from having to dedicate significant time and energy every time a conflict arises. More importantly, it helps your team build their interpersonal skills and foster stronger long-term relationships.

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