PI Inspire: Resolve a conflict

What is conflict?

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word conflict? For most, it’s probably a negative connotation of people communicating. However, conflict is not always a bad thing.

There are actually two types of conflict: healthy and unhealthy. Although they might look very similar on the outside, the main way to distinguish the two is by determining the intent of the conflict and how the team can use it to grow.

Unhealthy conflict can arise when someone has a different opinion on the work being done. They can say “I hate this” and provide nothing else, or they can provide their opinion to help the project or team grow. Now, let’s imagine the worker instead said, “Help me understand some of the decisions you made. I’m not sure I agree with XYZ.” This allows both parties to understand exactly why decisions are made. After the explanation, they might even agree that certain calls made were in fact the best options.

Even healthy conflict is still conflict, and it can go poorly if the team doesn’t feel like they’re in a safe place to interact. This can be challenging for employees to address, but how they handle it is the difference between an average and a high-performing team. Don’t try to cover these situations up; instead, lean into them in a constructive way. Remind your team that conflict is inevitable. They can use it to learn from one another as long as it’s never a personal attack and is meant to instead propel the team to success.


Think about the worst team you’ve been a part of. Were there times where you thought there was no possible solution?

Many organizations form teams and jump straight into the work they need to perform. This seems like an obvious choice to get quicker results, but if you’re looking to yield more from the team, start by working on the team itself.

Deliverables are important, but great leaders make sure to also prioritize the needs of their team members before it becomes an issue.

Sometimes, employees are chosen to play a role on the team that they weren’t suited for. When you think about hiring an individual for a job or assigning them to a project, make sure they are the right fit and that you are constructing your team and assigning work in a way that aligns with the work to be done.

“Team’s wont work if they only work on the work.” Matt Poepsel Vice President, Enterprise Solutions

Managing conflict

There are a number of issues that can arise when working with people, so it can feel overwhelming at times. However, there are ways to make sure you are prepared when conflict occurs.

Create a conflict resolution blueprint for your team. Every case will be different, but how you handle them should generally follow the same structure. Team members should also be aware of this blueprint so everyone is on the same page when you follow those steps. This ensures accountability of all parties. The blueprint will look different for every manager but should look something like the steps below. Click each tab to see the suggested steps or download this 1-page handout.

Address the matter at the time of conflict. Letting time pass could help some but it is more likely that tension will linger or build over time if not faced immediately.

Listen to all parties involved to understand all perspectives.  In some cases, allowing each member to talk, will allow team members to see eye to eye. Some issues might have just been miscommunication that only needed a bit of mediation.

Debates like these are easily heated if not looking at the objective side. Focus on facts rather than personal opinions.

Tie the resolution to the company’s value proposition. At the end of the day, the problem needs to be fixed in a way that benefits the organization.

Follow up with all involved to confirm what was discussed and steps to be taken. It’s easy to say we’ll fix something. Actually doing it is a much more difficult thing. Ensure you and your team hold themselves accountable.

The specific steps you define should resolve conflict, but the most important aspect is that it’s designed in a way for people to learn from the situation. Focus on the root cause, as opposed to any punitive measures.

No matter what steps you’ve chosen, it’s essential that you act quickly. Conflict—no matter how small—can grow into a much larger problem for your team. Start by calling a “timeout.” Put the work on hold, call a deliberate meeting to prioritize the team’s needs, and come up with a plan for a solution. During these meetings, the team should discuss what from the team might have changed and what is causing tensions to rise. What are the things that need to stop, start, or continue in order for everyone involved to move forward?

Finally, be sure to follow through with an action plan. Simply talking about it is only the first step. Holding not only the team but yourself accountable is the only way to truly resolve conflict.

Following these basic principles will help you manage the conflict your team experiences and help them learn to grow from it.

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