3 Dealing with conflict
People don’t like to confront disagreement (Figure 3) as for most of this means an uncomfortable emotional encounter and something to be avoided.
Activity 3 Experience of conflict
What has your experience of conflict been? Consider conflict that has arisen in teams and groups you have been part of, or even amongst your peers or family members. How do you tend to react to conflict and how does it make you feel? Ask yourself:
- What conflicts have arisen in your team?
- How have they been resolved?
- What role do you play in resolving these conflicts?
- What could you or others do to improve the team’s ability to deal with conflict?
Write your thoughts in the box below.
Well done for attempting this activity. You might have found it difficult, as just thinking about a conflict can make us feel uncomfortable.
It can be hard to work out what is going on in a conflict and you might have struggled to identify what your role was in helping to resolve the issue.
Did you manage to come up with any suggestions about how you could improve the teams ability to deal with conflict? You might have come up with suggestions such as talking to the other person when you and they are calmer, or listening to their point of view or avoiding the person you were in conflict with.
Even if you feel you did not deal with the situation very well it is good to reflect on this and consider what you might do in the future.
So, why is embracing and using disagreement an important team attitude? A team is a group of people who are working together to reach a common goal. The fact is that all the people in the team are going to be different, with different educational backgrounds, attitudes, experience, likes and dislikes. What may be important to you may not be important to another member of your team. Likewise, what is easy for you to understand may be confusing to someone else. However, it is actually these differences that make the team worthwhile. It is the very differences that cause conflict and disagreement about the way forward that enable the collective team experience to be of more value than one person doing the job on their own.
Activity 4 Responses to conflict
There tend to be four different responses to conflict and these can be characterised by: avoiding, accommodating, confronting and collaborating.
Most of have a response that they feel most comfortable with. Which response do you feel most describes your preferred style when dealing with conflict? In the table below type Yes next to your preferred style.
Table 3 Different responses to conflict
|Avoiding||You wait the problem out and prefer to work around it or work alone.|
|Accommodating||You seek support for your point of view but you go with the majority.|
|Confronting||You express your own views forcibly and directly.|
|Collaborating||You take the lead in trying to get consensus. This can be seen as healthy conflict.|
Everyone has a preferred way in which to deal with things. All of these responses are valid and in different circumstances could be the best way to move forward.
Can you recognise times when you have had to step out of your preferred style in order to get the job done?
You may recognise that you have had different responses to conflict depending on who the conflict has been with. If there are good levels of trust between individuals then it can feel more comfortable to enter into conflict over differences of opinion or interests. This is as true in the team or group setting as it is between individuals and this tells us something about the different way that conflict may occur in different stages of group development.
Table 4 Forming, storming, norming and performing
|Forming||Suppress conflict and stress unity.|
|Storming||Turbulent stage with conflicts over work, resources and goals.|
|Norming||Starting to see healthy conflict as teams start to collaborate.|
|Performing||Healthy conflict with differences of opinion welcomed and encouraged.|
Imagine trying to make a decision in a team which is actively trying to avoid disagreement and conflict. What do you think this would look like? You would see differences minimised or overlooked, creative ideas would be simply put aside as they were too difficult to negotiate and people who you know had something valuable to say would just stay quiet. Whilst this kind of team is effectively avoiding conflict it is not going to be as productive as the team that learns to deal with conflict effectively.