#12 – Working effectively in a team – conflict resolution

“Most of us at one time or another have been part of a great ‘team’, a group of people who functioned together in an extraordinary way who trusted one another, who complemented each other’s strengths and compensated for each other’s limitations, who had common goals that were larger than individual goals, and who produced extraordinary results. I have met many people who have experienced this sort of profound teamwork in sports, or in the performing arts, or in business. Many say that they have spent much of their life looking for that experience again. What they experienced was a learning organization. The team that became great didn’t start off great it learned how to produce extraordinary results.”

Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

The key to Successful Conflict Management – your self-esteem

In this section I’ll teach you a variety of skills to solve conflict with other people. I hope you’ll read it, think about it and then use it once or twice – practice will build your ability to use this skill.
However, the key to using this material isn’t memorizing it, it’s how you feel about yourself. You should go into every conflict situation feeling I’m ok, you’re ok. ” The better you feel about yourself the easier it is to hear clearly what this other person is telling you, you are doing wrong- and listen/hear what is being said to you with an open mind that gives you permission to realize you are wrong and other person is right.
This may sound obvious, but it’s actually very difficult – and will take a lifetime of care and feeding to develop and maintain. Here are some suggestions to build your self – esteem.

1. Live consciously
a. develop a part of your conscious mind that can be a ” disinterested 3rd party” that can analyze what you are saying/doing and it’s effect on the situation
b. keep an eye out for people /resources that can give you insights into why you are what you are

2. Build your self-confidence to the level that you can take responsibility for the outcome of every interaction with another person. Don’t judge/blame this other person or yourself for the outcome simply ask yourself “What did I learn? What needs to be done next?

3. Find quiet times several times each year to really examine yourself and your motives. Think back on specific situations your thoughts, motives, actions, the responses of the other person. Don’t make excuses, or blame/ belittle the other person. If you’re ok, then you can function in their best intrest and still meet your needs.

4. Develop a high level of confidence in yourself so you can be assertive. You must be able to look the other person in the eye and really feel you can say exactly what that person needs to hear ( or not hear) to clarify the situation and bring it to a win/win conclusion.

5. Remember all of us are only ” human becomings”. We aren’t finished projects. Strong self-confidence require constant effort on the first 4 steps in this section and then add 1 more – a strong, positive set of values.

This includes
a. Never consciously try to hurt or take advantage of another person
b. Always think in terms of helping others
c. Tell the truth and only withhold portions of the truth as you see it when these portions would hurt someone else.
d. When you say you will do something, do it. No excuses. If you can’t tell the other person exactly what they want to hear, tell them why and what you can do about it.

The worst response to a conflict situation is to become impatient and lose your temper. We take personal offense, throw insults, accuse before understanding. In order to avoid this, try to find out why you let these situations push you into anger. Often your emotion is caused because you expect perfection-in others as well as yourself.
To be an effective member of your team, you must learn tolerance. That doesn’t mean to overlook mistakes by your team members. It does mean to focus on the problem that needs a solution, not the character of the team member you feel has made the mistake.

By now you have also experienced some of the frustrations of working in a team. Relying closely on someone else can be awkward. You’ll see some people on the team do irritating things:

1. Resistance for no good reason
2. Bickering
3. Cliques that fight each other with games
4. Jealousies and power struggles
5. General disgust by the whole team with each other
6. Back stabbing, gossip, tension, low trust, pettiness
7. Analyzing people’s behavior behind their backs
8. Dominating people
9. Yes but responses

Okay, so you’ve pictured these occurring in the office. How about at home among your family, or with friends or relatives or other families you spend time with? Get the picture? Conflict resolution skills are valuable in all areas of you life. This section will teach you how to resolve conflicts and maintain relationships. This isn’t an easy skill to learn, but it’s very valuable. At first you’ll be very uncomfortable, with time and practice you’ll believe it’s the right thing to do and then you’ll be comfortable with it.

When you conflict with someone, your attitude is most important. Remember these thoughts before you get “sucked in” to negative emotions during a conflict. Here are some thoughts to help keep your cool.

1. Conflict is a normal part of human relationships. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. It will happen fairly often, and that’s okay.
2. Everyone has conflicts in their lives. It’s what you do with it that counts.
3. Conflicts aren’t contests to be won or lost.
4. Conflicts should be resolved through both sides learning, growing, and cooperating with each other.
5. Conflict isn’t about whom is right. It’s about understanding and appreciating differences.
6. When someone’s criticism effects how you feel about yourself, then the problem is your self-esteem and not the problem itself.

People view conflict as change and change creates 3 problems

1. Try to stay on safe ground
2. Decide what they need from the past and what can be let go
3. Cope with change

Most people will try to deal with conflicts the way they have in the past.

1. Live with it. Don’t make waves. It’ll go away. People forget
2. All conflicts should be resolved, no matter what.
3. Not enough time to bother with it

A minor conflict escalates and requires your help when

1. Quality of work goes down
2. Work slows up
3. Staff begins to take sides
If you are going to resolve a conflict, you’ll need to keep communications open so you can understand and appreciate the other person’s point of view. Here is a list of communication styles that will ruin your chances of success.

  • Ordering
  • Threatening
  • Moralizing
  • Advising
  • Lecturing
  • Blaming
  • Flattering
  • Ridiculing
  • Analyzing
  • Sympathizing
  • Questioning
  • Humoring
  • “Just say you’re sorry.”

Did I eliminate all your possibilities? You might think so, but here is the process I recommend. To keep a difference of opinion from turning into a knock down, drag out battle where various staff members join sides and split an office. Try this

1. Realize that a conflict exists. How did it start? It’s amazing how often all of us are in a stressed relationship and just live it without even realizing at a conscious level that this is a conflict. Some conflicts are so petty or occur so infrequently that they aren’t worth the energy to resolve.
2. Determine the real conflict. It may seem to be a minor problem, but games, threats to self-esteem, leadership position, etc., may be a much larger issue
3. Choices once you’ve identified the conflict – What are you after?
4. Adjust how you are looking at the situation; you are part of the problem and you may need to change your behavior.
5. If you are wrong, apologize
a. “I’m sorry” doesn’t necessarily mean “I’m wrong”
b. Keep it simple, with good eye contact.

6. I realize I’m not completely correct.
a. am I trying to cast blame
b. am I bringing up old stuff to fuel the fire

7. Are my emotions under control so I can deal with this situation?
8. What will happen if I ignore it?
9. What will happen if I impose my solution?
10. What is the best win-win solution?
11. How can I prevent this in the future?

Other Options

The I message is:

” I feel ________ (this) way when you do __________ (that)”

1. It’s more important to the other person and you want to score “points” to use later
2. Avoid dealing with the situation
3. Trivial
4. Concern for damage to the relationship outweighs your getting what you want goal
5. Need more information
6. Others can solve the conflict better than you
7. Decide to resolve it – Set a time/place to discuss the conflict. Say, “I’ve got a problem I need to discuss with you privately.” Try to use end of the day for the meeting. You won’t feel as pressured to quickly resolve the conflict and if you’re upset you won’t “take it out” on clients.
8. You called the meeting, so you should start the conversation. Make sure you understand the conflict completely : “I message”
9. Who is involved (don’t judge, intimidate, or blame); what color are they (strength deployment inventory)
10. What is the situation – Don’t interrogate someone to get this information. Just state the problem the way you see it in specific terms. Use lots of good body language and “I” message to take responsibility and express your feelings. “I have a real concern about ___________. We can’t work together well until we resolve it.” “My goal is _________. Now how do we get there?” “Bobbe, when you’re not here and you don’t get it okayed by me, then I get upset because Dr. Smith expects the front desk to run smoothly and he made that my responsibility.”
11. On some occasions you’ll find you were wrong when you get all the facts. Admit it. Apologize. Explain why you thought the way you did. Ask for her understanding of why you thought the way you did. Offer to correct the situation if appropriate.
12. The general example (if you believe your view is correct) would be I (feel, react) when you (act, do use very specific, key facts) which causes (consequences). “Can you tell me what happened?” When you give an “I message” stop talking. Now it’s the other person’s turn to respond no matter how long it takes! This pause can last for 1 2 minutes, which will feel like an eternity.
13. Creative listening. Do you have any ideas on how to solve this?
14. Anger accept it, let them vent so they’ll be able to think better “Can you lower it a little bit so I can hear what you’re saying. I see this has really upset you.” Anger is okay, don’t feel threatened.
15. Crying “Here’s a box of tissues. When you feel like talking again we will.” Now be quiet. If the crying continues: “Sally, you’re really upset. Would you rather discuss this tomorrow?”
16. Blank stare, now words “I don’t need to know why you are acting this way, but (the behavior) must change.”
17. Reasonable excuse “I can appreciate (excuse), but I hope in the future you’ll be able to _________ so we can avoid ____________. Can I count on you for this?”
18. Denial, won’t cooperate “Sally, (this behavior) must change in the next 30 days or I’ll have to let you go.”

Well, let’s assume you’ve weathered the emotions, now how do you help the other person to clarify their thoughts, to focus on the conflict? Try these:

1. “Are you stressed all the time or only when certain things happen?”
2. “Can you give me an example of the last time you felt this way?”

The biggest hurdle is for you to completely understand the other person’s position. How would you feel/act if you were in that person’s shoes? How would you want to see this conflict resolved if you had this other person’s personality and needs? The more you value the other person, the easier it is to put your own goals in perspective.

Questions that may help

  1. Let’s back up, what are we trying to accomplish here?
  2. What problems exist with the current approach?
  3. What approach might I suggest?
  4. What do you suggest?
  5. What are the pros/cons of each?
  6. Who all is affected by this?
  7. What should we try next?
  8. When will we check to see if this is working?

When you’ve expressed your feelings and listened openly, it’s time to state your goal(s) to resolve the conflict. This should be a short, sweet clear statement. No hidden agendas. Take the other person’s concerns to heart. You’re not trying to manipulate this person to accept the solution that you had in mind before your meeting. Once you understand each other clearly and you can talk calmly, go to the next step. If you can’t discuss the conflict clearly/calmly, set another meeting and try again.

3. Negotiation
4. Your goal is a win/win solution
5. Understand each other
6. Who needs to do what
7. How is this different from what we’re doing now?
8. How will these changes effect each person?
9. What level of resistance does each person have?
10 .Both sides need to come up with lots of suggestions/ideas
11. Write down all the ideas. Sometimes an idea that may originally appear unworkable may be the key to your success.

A good solution relies on clear communication. Here are some ideas on giving and receiving feedback.


HELPING                                                                 HINDERING (hooking the other person’s emotions)
Specify behaviors                                                      General, vague
what was said or done

Give recent specific examples                                 Old examples

Convey feelings of concern                                       Start into factual account
intend to be helpful

Convey equal power in                                             Convey power edge
relation you control as                                               one up, one down
much as I

Be descriptive, non evaluative,                                 Evaluate
non blameful no put downs

Describe own feelings as                                            Attribute negative motive to
consequence of other’s behavior                               other person

Reveal your underlying                                              Fault Finding, accusations,
assumption of consequences                                      blaming; Bring up behaviors that others can’t                                                                                               change

Helpful Phrases:

“Some things I thought you did well were…”
“Some things you might have don differently were…”
“One thing that might work better for you is…”
“A different way of looking at that is…”
“Put yourself in your team’s shoes. They may think…”


TURN ON                                                                  SHUT OFF
Paraphrasing                                                             Justifying

Request Clarification                                                Building a case

Perception Check                                                      Apologizing

Summarize                                                                Promising not to do it again

Speculate as to examples                                        Over internalizing pout & spread bad feelings
Explore feelings                                                        among others who aren’t actually involved
Staying objective about behavior

General tendency when criticizing is to be vague in order to be “nice” be sure to ask for clarification

Here are some phrases that will help you disagree with someone:

I am going to disagree with you and let me tell you why
I think you could look at that another way
I look at that differently. It seems to me that…
Something that worries me about that is…
Let me try to sell you on another view on that.

Now you should be ready to wrap it up. Tie down any questionable areas. “How long do you think you’ll need to get ___________ back into order?” If the response is too long, “I think that’s too long.”

If you can’t seem to reach an agreement, then go to the ultimate solution.

“________ we don’t seem to be able to solve this. Let’s meet with Dr. __________ to have him help us.”

If someone is having real personal problems divorce, terminally ill spouse, etc., we know his/her job performance will be effected. Your task is to find out how long and make sure this is an acceptable length of time. We should be compassionate. On the other hand, this person has significant responsibilities to perform. Be generous, but set an acceptable end point after which their performance will meet our standards.

6. Closure

Now it’s time to wrap it up. This is an important step. Write down your decisions and make them clear. You can write them down with the other person present or later. That’s up to you, but make sure it’s written down! Time passes and memories dim. Make sure you set a firm date for a follow up meeting. Write it down.

Sometimes when all the facts are in, you’ll find you are the one who’s at fault. Don’t just say “Sorry.” Use this 4-step approach.

1. Acknowledge what happened and how it affected the other person
2. Explain the circumstances that led to your action
3. Apologize specifically
4. Ask if there’s any thing you can do to make things right

7. Evaluation

At your follow up meeting, see how effective the person’s behavior has been at resolving the conflict. Watch out for these negative behaviors.

1. Avoidance the person goes out of her way to not see you
2. Passive/aggressive indirectly the person tries to pay you back, but won’t confront you directly: gossip about you, late to work, do exactly what you ask while knowing you meant something slightly different
3. Perfectionism try to be perfect so can never be criticized again

Usually this follow up meeting will go well and serve as an opportunity for you to congratulate each other for working through the conflict together. If you received one of the negative feedbacks, then go to your administrator or dentist.

Does this seem like a lot of work? It is! Are there quicker, easier, ways? Sure! Do they work? Maybe, sometimes. Does the system I’ve outlined work? All the time! Here’s what you can expect when you use this system.

1. Playfulness
2. Lack of gossip
3. Win/win focus
4. Issue orientation (no blaming)
5. Direct communication

Please take this conflict resolution test from Linda Drevenstedt, a management consultant who helped us with conflict resolution. Share your results with your team leader.

Conflict Resolution Process

1. Identify existing conflict and list people involved
2. Identify the situation
3. The “I” message
4. Creative listening
5. Negotiation
6. Closure
7. Evaluation

Now, to get signed off on this section, take this Conflict Management Survey: Conflict Mgt Survey