Teams don’t always just hum along. People have personal and professional differences, and sweeping them under the rug is not healthy long term, and could eventually cause a full breakdown. If there is a tiff, managing it correctly can actually reinforce respect and cause a team to function substantially better than it did with the pent up tension still unspoken.
I’m speaking here mostly from the point of view of someone managing 2 people who have had a conflict, but these could also be used to manage a conflict you are having directly with someone, although this is harder, and a facilitator can sometimes still help.
There are 3 main steps to successful conflict resolution:
1. Agree that there is a problem that needs to be solved
If one or more of the parties are not willing to address the issue, it will be substantially harder, if not impossible, to positively resolve it. It’s best to appeal to professional integrity (i.e. a professional would address this, so you should), zoom out to the big picture (i.e. to show the benefits that the project/organisation would have from a harmonious team), and alleviate fears that the process will be too scary or unpleasant. Many people fear conflict resolution because they don’t understand that it can be a very positive experience.
2. Hearing the other’s point of view
In order for each person to both get their say, and effectively hear and understand the other person, it is important that both of them go in to the process with an open mind, and allow the other person to speak without getting defensive (overly defending each point) or righteous (focusing on being seen to be right in the small things instead of having a good outcome).
Remember that any examples given will likely be not that big a deal on their own, and only in the context of the person’s frustration, will they have much weight, so don’t get fixated on any one example.
Each person must be willing to compromise to find a solution that works for both. If there is a power imbalance, such as a conflict between an employee and a manager, beware the solution being the manager just 100% getting their own way, as this will often foster longer term resentment. There’s a great tongue in cheek saying that is “the only good compromise is where neither party is happy”.
Both parties benefit from positive conflict resolution. Discussion may even reveal that what you thought was the cause of the problem is inaccurate, incorrect or misleading. By remaining calm, showing patience and demonstrating respect, you can help resolve problems in a constructive manner. This results in effective long-term relationships and increased productivity. Conflict that results in punishment for one party may result in continued tension, stress and disruption. Focus on positive outcomes and you’ll get better results.