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Effective Solutions for Team Conflict

Use Your Communication Skills to Solve Workplace Clashes

By Renée Evenson

If you are uncomfortable facing conflict, you are not alone. Most people feel uncomfortable when dealing with any conflict, especially when it occurs in the workplace. We often ignore these situations, hoping the problem will go away. The bad news is that ignoring conflict will only allow it to grow, until it often becomes unmanageable. If left unresolved, conflict creates disgruntled employees and, at worst, can cause your customers to quit doing business with you.

But when you arm yourself with the skills to meet conflict head on and work quickly and effectively to resolve problems, you will gain respect as an involved leader who is committed to being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Here are some tips on how to deal with interpersonal clashes and maintain strong, cohesive and productive relationships with others.

View every conflict as an opportunity. Conflict is a natural component in all relationships and should be welcomed. Good discussion clears up confusion, channels positive energy, boosts confidence, bonds employees and opens the door to resolution. To that end, many universities now have an Ombuds Office (which takes its name from “ombudsman” – one who resolves complaints). Such places enable students, staff and faculty to seek constructive help with interpersonal disputes. The neutral listeners at an Ombuds Office suggest alternative ways to handle the problem, including a possible mediation process.

Tom Sebok, director of the Ombuds Office at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says people will inevitably have misunderstandings, whether on a campus or in a company. “Almost any team is likely to view a situation from different perspectives, which can lead to conflict,” he says. “Recognizing this and encouraging discussion of different points of view can help groups make more thoughtful and informed decisions.”

Anticipate problems and deal with them immediately. In any conflict, someone has to step forward to resolve the issue. If you’re the one, you want to act quickly. You don’t have the luxury of waiting around to see what will happen.

Learn to be on the lookout for problems, and resolve issues while they are still manageable. Ask your team members, co-workers and friends to tell you when a problem is brewing. When co-workers suddenly become negative, quiet or upset, this is often a sign of conflict.

Communication is key to resolving conflict.
The following steps can be followed to establish effective communication practices and help resolve conflict:

1. Listen and Question.
Before attempting to draw conclusions or make decisions, listen carefully to all sides. Sebok says, “You don’t have to agree, but it almost always helps to understand someone else’s perspective. Also, listening helps people to feel both safe and understood, and sets the stage for a more constructive dialogue.”

Seek information by using nonjudgmental words and phrases, such as I noticed, I feel that, or I need to talk to you about something that concerns me. Follow up by asking questions to enhance your understanding.

Pay attention to the non-verbal messages you are receiving – and those you are sending. People are going to be emotional when talking about the conflict; observe the message behind the words. Is the person angry, hurt or embarrassed? What is the person really telling you? Be aware, also, of the signals you send out. Show concern in your facial expressions by maintaining eye contact and don’t frown, laugh or send other improper messages.

2. Decide and Plan.
When you have enough details to work toward resolution, take time to think through the situation before deciding how to respond. When you have made a decision, plan what you will say when meeting with the person or the group. Think about how those involved are going to respond to you. Who will be confrontational? Who will refuse to take responsibility? Who will be passive and give in?

3. Respond and Resolve.
The most effective way to resolve conflict is to allow those involved to come to a mutual solution. There will be times, though, when a leader must make the final decision for the team. In either situation, resolution occurs when you can find a win-win solution where all involved feel valued and can accept the decision.

To read the full article, please visit “Effective Solutions for Team Conflict” in the Toastmaster magazine online archives.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about conflict resolution? Try Resolving Conflict (Item 321), offered by Toastmasters International at

Renée Evenson is a writer specializing in organizational psychology. Her latest books, Customer Service Training 101 and Award-Winning Customer Service, are available in bookstores, online sites or at