How to Avoid Team Conflict

How To Stop Conflict And Promote Clarity Right Now

“Feel free to openly share your problems with me.”

“Don’t come to me with a problem. I’m only interested in solutions!”

Have you ever received a mixed message like this? How did it make you feel?

Confused? Frustrated? Angry?

If you felt any of those, you’d be FULLY justified.

Mixed messages can cause confusion, frustration and worse.

Mostly, they make clarity impossible. Without clarity, nothing works. 

If you want to lead change, inspire others to action and help your team perform at its best, your communication has to be CRYSTAL CLEAR (especially when virtual!).

Inspired by the writings of my Gestalt teacher Paul Barber, here are 4 simple guidelines to make your communication clear and avoid unnecessary conflicts:

  1. Clarify your intention – be clear if you are supporting, challenging or seeking clarification.
  2. Make direct statements – be specific; simplify statements, don’t elaborate.
  3. Ask ‘how’ rather than ‘why’ – ask others to share their observations rather than explain their reasons.
  4. Engage in dialogue – speak directly to others (avoid speeches, monologues, etc.).

    Clarify Your Intention Up Front

By clarifying your intention, your communication will leave no room for misinterpretation. Nor conflict.

But if you want to be clear to others, you have to be clear with yourself FIRST.

After all, if it’s not clear to you how can it be clear to someone else?

If not always sure of your intention, these 3 simple questions will help you clarify it:

  1. Am I lecturing about “what ought to be” rather than dealing with what is right now?
  2. Am I pretending that I’m looking for information when I really want to make a statement?
  3. Am I broadcasting into the air rather than speaking directly with people?

    Thanks for the guidance and inspiration, Paul!

    The Most Important Exchange Ever

Do you have a team where a conflict is starting to grow? Or are misunderstandings a constant reality of your teamwork?

Whether you want to improve collaboration with one or multiple work relationships, the most important and most effective thing you can do with that person/s is to exchange this 1 simple question and 1 clear statement:

Q: What do you need and expect from me?

S: This is what I need and expect from you:

What makes this so important?

It cuts to the essential. It leaves no room for blame or finger-pointing. No room for misunderstanding or resulting conflict.

By executing this 2-step expectations exchange, you promote 3 MUST-HAVE characteristics for effective team communication: DIRECT. CLEAR. OPEN.

After all, without open lines of communication there can be no real collaboration.


Take Action Today

Of course you can’t control how the people around you communicate. Hidden agendas are a part of every team and organization, unfortunately.

However, by modelling this communication style with your collaborators, you can inspire them to do the same.

Furthermore, by applying a few of these clarifying tips and questions, you can stop conflict before it begins.

If you or your team would like help developing these strategiesclick here to schedule a Free Strategy Call.

  • Hi Tim, a timely post. I might add the importance of not being judgmental. The challenge is ensuring that both parties come together with the intent to be open, and consultative looking forward to building the relationship rather than backwards, seeking to justify, blame and effectively damage the relationship. Preparation is key. The dilemma, is that conflict needs to be dealt with in the here and now. Building that atmosphere of trust; a safe haven for open and frank conversations starts long before the conflict arises. And hey, if the prep work is successful, their may never be the need for conflict resolution 🙂

    • Hi Andy, thanks for your comment! Yes, laying the ground work for a safe and open communication is key to avoiding a conflict in the first place. I believe a team manager’s most important duty is to create the feeling of psychological safety in his or her team.

      I’m curious – What do you see as their biggest duty?

  • Tim, I certainly think the points you make above can help get a discussion “unstuck”. The techniques you write about really do get people to put aside assumptions about the message they are hearing. Great stuff!

    • Thanks, Steven! BTW, as you heard/read a lot of Paul’s guidelines first-hand, I’d be curious to know which of them really stand out for you?

  • Unnecessary conflict should be avoided – whatever it is and maybe, if someone speaks up there is always a reason and not unnecessary for that person. Rather than neutralizing I want to lever conflict. Conflict in organizations must be used to increase effectiveness. Conflict is essential to a team’s creative collaboration. Without differences of opinion, no synthesis of ideas or debate about important issues is possible. But when conflict is mismanaged, it destroys creative collaboration and increases probability of destructive behavior – like finger pointing and destruction. It is less about having no conflict and more about having a fertile ground on which conflict can be tranformed into constructive and imaginative energy.

    To say it with Drucker: “Disagreement converts the plausible into the right and the right into the good decision. The effective decision-maker does not start out with the assumption that one proposed course of action is right and that all others must be wrong. Nor does he start out with the assumption, “I am right and he is wrong”. He starts out with the commitment to find out why people disagree. […]” – and to find the most applicable solution together. Leave conflict on a factual level & protect relationship level.

    Grandiose article, Tim – thanks for your thoughts and agenda of stance. The points you compiled are practically very useful.

    • THanks for your comments, Andreas! And yes, I totally agree – anything, including a conflict, that creates a “a fertile ground that can be transformed into constructive and imaginative energy” should be welcomed with open arms!