MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Prevent team conflict from breaking out

Is there tension brewing in your team? Follow our ten tips to prevent it from turning into all-out war.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
You may or may not have heard about the giant tree planted by a resident in a quiet Plymouth suburb, which has sparked a huge row with the neighbours that the city’s council is reluctant to rush to sort out. It’s a familiar situation in lots of offices (well, ok, there aren’t many giant trees about – but you get our gist). So how can you sort it out? We asked Clive Johnson and Jackie Keddy, authors of a new book on the subject, for their top tips.
  1. Be approachable. Let people know that they can say what’s on their mind without being criticized for not being able to sort out their own problems.
  2. Know how to spot the first signs of a dispute. Tune into that conflict radar. Early action during ‘the golden hour’ is often critical for stopping disagreements from becoming entrenched.
  3. Start talking. Getting the two parties to open up about their concerns helps them to articulate what’s really troubling them and gives you a chance to work out how you can help them reach an outcome
  4. Don't make assumptions. Tempting though it may be to act as judge and jury, remember what they say about fools who rush in. Observe without evaluating.
  5. Change the scenery. Take each party away from the scene of their dispute for a quiet ‘one-to-one’. Even a quick walk along the corridor to the water cooler is effective.
  6. Feel the force. Let individuals get their feelings off of their chest, with all the pent-up emotion that might bring. But don’t rest on words that are spoken in anger.
  7. Listen. Really listen to what individuals have to say, without any intention of replying.
  8. Question. Coach and probe to help individuals reflect and make sense of their anger, as well as to guiding them into think through ways forward.
  9. Play back only what you notice. Say what you see, have heard, and how this all seems to relate. Don’t confuse interpreting with assuming.
  10. Encourage peace. Help individuals to see that compromise, taking a criticism on the cheek or making a simple apology are often their best options for moving forward peaceably, except of when a serious allegation needs to be investigated.
- Clive Johnson and Jackie Keddy are co-authors of ‘Managing Conflict at Work’, published by Kogan Page in September 2010.

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