How to solve conflicts in your team?


Let's be clear, all of us, without exception, have had to deal with conflict at work and in our personal lives. It's an inevitable part of social and work dynamics. So why not learn how to resolve conflicts at work and with the teams we interact with?

Part of the job of a good project manager is to manage the unexpected. Interestingly, we never expect conflict - although I know some who come into the office as if they want to "start a war" XD.

This article talks about conflict in teams and the importance of recognizing conflict as something natural and inherent in interpersonal relationships. This will help to lower the tone, take the discussion out of the personal environment and provide solutions to conflicts that, however unpleasant they may seem to us, are part of who we are: human.

What is conflict?

The word comes from Latin conflictus. It is formed by the prefix with- (convergence, union) and the verb fligere (to strike or afflict). In other words, we could say that the word conflict - etymologically speaking - means: "clash of several".

Conflict then speaks to us of a confrontation between several parties - there must be more than one for conflict to exist - I admit that sometimes I fight only with myself.

As I said before, this article will focus on techniques for resolving work or organizational conflicts. Don't expect to find tips on how to improve your relationship. However, I have no doubt that you will find each of the nine tips for resolving organizational conflicts useful.

Why do conflicts arise in organizations?

First and foremost, you must understand that problems, arguments and in general, conflict, is a natural part of social - and therefore work - dynamics. Conflicts are as natural and human as breathing, heartbeat or communication.

Conflicts always arise because of divergence between people, their opinions, their actions or their way of thinking. And therefore we can classify them according to the "scope" - reach - and the magnitude of this divergence as:

  • Interns
  • External


  • Personal
  • Group
  • Organizational

This is how there are conflicts intrapersonal - contradictions inherent to the person[1]Intrapersonal conflict may seem contradictory to the concept of conflict - which assumes at least two people. However, a person with personal contradictions is prone to have conflicts with others. The important thing, as managers and leaders, is to identify this category and support these people in finding solutions to their contradictions. A task that can use mentoring or coaching techniques.; interpersonal - opposition or differences between two or more people; intragroup e intergroup and, of course, intra-organizational.

In all cases, the most important thing and the focus of our work is not the conflict itself, but how we have to manage it as leaders or as a team.

Dispute management and resolution

Basic infographic on organizational conflict
Own infographic developed in

Avoiding conflict is almost always a mistake. Conflict should not be avoided - nor should it be promoted. However, ignoring or avoiding it leads to increased pressure and stress. In Colombia - my country, we have an expression ".dead calm". We use it to refer to the fact that, despite there being plenty of arguments or reasons, everything seems to be at peace. A desperate, distressing and stressful calm.

One of the five dysfunctionalities of the equipmentraised by Patrick Lencioniis "fear of conflict". This situation usually reflects that team members do not have the necessary trust in other team members to talk openly about problems and challenges. This will prevent the team from seeking solutions to conflicts that, I never tire of repeating, are natural to team dynamics.

Hence the importance of managing conflict. Give the space for healthy and necessary for team members to talk, discuss and seek a solution.

Five key steps in conflict resolution

Photography of footprints in the sand

Conflict management is both wide and tall. This small sequence of steps is useful to structure a more complex and deeper process. So I'm sure it can be a very good start for you and your teams.

Step 1: Identify the source of the problem

The more information your team has about the cause or origin of the problem, the easier it will be to identify alternatives for solving it. To get the necessary information, it is wise to engage in targeted activities. For example, meet privately with each of the parties, seeking useful information from "their point of view" and then, if conditions exist, evaluate the information with the entire team, in order to keep the conflict "within the team" or the "parties involved.

If your role is as a leader, facilitator or manager, you must ensure that each party involved has the opportunity to tell their side or share their perspective, and to be heard. If you are a party to the conflict - and not a mediator - seek support from a mediator.

Step 2: Sort and structure the information about the conflict

Perform powerful questionsThe information should be categorized into feelings, thoughts, emotions, events, and actions. You should avoid concentrating the information on a single specific event - which we often call an incident. Conflicts have an origin (an initial incident) and other events that have been deepening or aggravating the situation.

It seeks to establish a timeline and associates that timeline with feelings and emotions. Emotions are reactions that occur spontaneously and automatically.. That's why, many times, what we call "emotional hijacking" happens, where our actions are not rational but emotional. Hence, the "incidents" or events within the conflict may be driven by stress, anger or rage, and not by our thoughts, ideas or feelings.

Step 3: Ask or pose solutions to the conflict

Expressing our perspective is "the easy task". On the contrary, team building is a difficult task and can take a significant amount of your own energy. So, don't limit your participation to active listening, encourage the search for solutions - of course if you are a facilitator, it is easier to ask for solutions or alternatives.

When you are part of the conflict, coming up with solutions requires "cool heads" and analysis. So, controlling your emotions is a fundamental part of the process of finding solutions to conflicts.

Step 4: Identify alternative solutions everyone is willing to support

Look for solutions and identify what is valuable in each alternative. What is the benefit of this alternative? What is the cost or benefit? downside? The goal is not to come up with a solution that we all love - that would be ideal. The goal is to come up with a solution that we are "willing to support". The solution to conflicts is not always an easy and light process, it requires effort and dedication, daily commitment.

Step 5: Reach an agreement

It seems obvious, however, it is curious that for many teams the discussions and approaches do not reach any result.

A few days ago someone asked me about "what do we do with what comes out of the retrospective meetings". At first, I didn't understand the question, and then I realized that the team did not take action or make a decision on the information analyzed and discussed during the retrospective.

Surely - and I admit I don't know the details of that team's situation, the team is trying to make decisions or take action on things that are out of their control.

What is needed to solve the problems?

It is the same with conflict, we must take action on what we can and should handle, not on things that are beyond our control. Not about things that are beyond our control. If the conflict is solvable, why worry? If the conflict is not solvable, why worry?

  • We need patience and dedication to work for the solution.
  • We need wisdom to identify and accept the things that have no solution.

Effective conflict resolution techniques

If what you need is patience and dedication, using the right tools at the right time can save you a lot of stress and emotional hijacking. Remember that we mediators are also human and sensitive to our environment. If you have more ideas or suggestions, feel free to write in the comments, I'll be happy to update the list.

1. Keep conflicts within your borders

Conflicts happen within "boundaries". So always try to keep the problem within those boundaries. If the conflict is intrapersonal, support that person in private. Avoid exposing their conflicts to other people, this could break the trust and the work you have done.

Escalating a problem beyond these boundaries is always an option, but if used prematurely, it can send the opposite message: "that problems are not kept within the team and everything is exposed before they are discussed". This can break down trust within the group.

2. Find the most appropriate space to discuss

Just as important as keeping the issue in context, it's important to find the most appropriate space for key conversations. In my opinion, nothing beats a neutral space for a face-to-face conversation. If that's not possible, you can always turn to the channel that can offer you the most richness.

As you can see, the importance of choosing a good channel will support the conversation with the parties involved in the conflict. If you want to read more about communication channels, I invite you to read an excellent article published at AgileModeling.

3. Act slow and calm

The most common mistake in conversations and debates is not to give importance to the pause, to the moment of reflecting on what you are about to say. Sometimes, keeping silent is the best thing you can do.

Promotes analysis and interpretation. Listen before you speak.

Choose your words. Choose your actions. If you are part of the conflict, you must avoid at all costs the emotional abduction - of which we have all been victims.

4. Separate the problem from the people

Identify, whenever possible, the problem as a divergence of opinions. Avoid falling into conflict oriented to the person and his or her "being". Look for interests and not "perceptions". We often associate a feeling - or an emotion, the latter being temporary and more intense - with a person.

For example, Latinos near the Caribbean are identified around the world for their warmth and joy. However, a dark side of those qualities is the difficulty in establishing work ties from which friendship is not expected.

In this sense, some people find it difficult to create good relationships with "co-workers" with whom they would not be able to establish a friendship. We confuse companionship with friendship. Teamwork with "work among friends".

This means that conflicts tend to become associated with personal problems very quickly.

5. Don't generalize your opinion

Opinions are just that: a person's subjective opinions. Avoid generalizing and using words like "always" or "everyone". If it's your opinion, don't try to make it seem "objective". Accept the weakness of your subjectivity and use expressions like "I feel," "I believe," or "my perception is. Avoid pointing out things in others like "you always" or "everyone says". For example, instead of saying:

"Why did you say...?"

And try to say:

"When I heard your words I felt..."

This avoids finger-pointing and puts context on feelings, emotions and one's own response to the situation.

6. One session is sometimes not enough

Give people enough space to process their emotions. Don't force yourself or the team to find solutions to all conflicts at once. Sometimes it is better to wait. You need to understand that not everyone is ready and still in the grip of emotions. Not all people process their emotions equally or quickly.

When, during a session together, things start to get out of control, find a time out. Minutes or days. Help the parties to reflect.

7. Follow up and confirm decisions

Finally, don't leave things to chance. Don't assume that solutions will come on their own. After conflict resolution sessions, it is wise to follow up and express interest in moving forward to consolidate the solution.

Many times, resolution sessions turn into "complaining" spaces. This happens when people know that this is the only time they will be heard and then nothing will happen. In the long run, this situation will deepen the conflict.

The role of the project manager in conflict resolution

The project manager is, of course, the person called upon to remain calm and, as far as possible, to refrain from getting directly involved in the conflict. In other words, the manager must remain neutral - as far as possible - to ensure that he or she can play a good mediating role.

Mediation - or arbitration - during the search for solutions to conflicts requires objectivity and neutrality. Otherwise, it will only aggravate the conflict, as it implies greater resistance or difficulty for one of the parties.

Would you like to share your comments and opinions?

I invite you to share your opinion and experiences about conflict within organizations. Avoid, of course, pointing fingers at specific people or companies. The important thing is to reflect on the solution they found or that you would have liked to find.


Author's comments and notes[+]

Alberto Dominguez
Alberto Dominguez

Leading teams from theory to real and sustainable delivery of innovative IT products and services.

Articles: 44

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