Whenever multiple people must work together, conflict is inevitable. Some conflict is healthy; it can help your team identify problems and address them before they become crises. Conflict over the wrong issues, or conflict that is out of control, has the opposite effect: it derails your team, costing time, productivity, and effort.

Here are six ways to address and overcome conflict so your team stays on track:

  1. Understand all sides of the issue. Before trying to fix any conflict, try to see it from all sides. This will help you find a solution that the parties entrenched in the issue can’t currently see.
  2. Acknowledge everyone’s investment in the conflict. Few things are more frustrating than hearing, “stop worrying about it, it’s not important.”  If it’s important enough to cause a conflict, it’s important to the people involved.  Instead, acknowledge that the participants’ frustrations and concerns are real, and focus on resolving them as a way of resolving the conflict.
    Be methodical, even if it annoys others.  People involved in a conflict want a quick answer, and they want it to favor their side.  Taking the time to understand what’s going on and to render a decision can annoy participants, but the risk of a too-quick decision being based on incomplete information and alienating someone unnecessarily is higher.  Once calm is restored, people are more likely to thank you for thinking it through than for making a mistake because you acted too quickly.
  3. Address the issue, not the person. Even if you don’t get along with someone involved in the conflict or their personality frequently clashes with others on the team, they may still have a legitimate issue or concern.  Focus on resolving the issue, and address the person individually in private later, if needed.
  4. Set guidelines for communication. Before digging in to the issue, set a few “ground rules” for communication.  For instance, you may ask that everyone talk about the issue, speak calmly and attempt to understand one another’s perspectives. Be willing to end the meeting at once if the guidelines are violated.
  5. Act quickly and decisively once the information is in. Once you understand what’s going on and have talked to everyone involved, make a decision.  Leaving an issue “up in the air” damages the team’s productivity and morale.  Even if not everyone on the team agrees with you, they’ll know how to proceed.

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