As a leader, managing conflict is part of your role. It comes with the territory and you can use conflict that exists as a positive in your team. Don’t be afraid of conflict. In basic terms, conflict can be a difference of opinion. It’s healthy and helps to innovate and create ideas.  A lot of people would rather avoid conflict than deal with it because they only see the negative effects.

Some people don’t stand up for their beliefs of their opinions and this only serves to have a group of people that say ‘yes’ to their leader or others and then the opportunity for improvement, tweaking, discussion and change is often lost. It’s often the case that when you have a group that feels like they can’t offer opinions agree on what to do but complain about the decision later on and then you have a dissention issue which is often harder to fix. Conflict handled well means people don’t get hurt and don’t take things personally. It’s your role to ensure that you don’t harm these relationships.

Set a clear expectation that it is okay to have a differing opinion and that a healthy debate can lead to a more defined and agreed outcome. Encourage others to speak up and express their opinion. Help them see the benefits of this. When it’s time to agree or move forward with a decision, then you can sum up, acknowledge the opinions and share the reasons for any decision that’s been arrived at. Thank those that have offered opinions. Don’t shoot people down in public for sharing an idea. Examine your own behaviours and see if you encourage opinions or somehow shut them down.

It’s always useful to have others support their opinions with facts or data to support them. This will help you in resolving conflicts between people if you can get them to recognise that the facts are the starting point. Supporting information is a great way to illuminate a problem. Get used to asking a question like this, “What are the reasons for you coming to that conclusion?”

When encouraging opinions in your team, help the team understand that personal attacks are not tolerated. If people feel that there is equality, fairness and safety in expressing thoughts and opinions, you will get much more impact and variety as well as happier staff. You can train your staff in conflict handling and problem solving skills.

Understand the type of conflict

Conflict situations can be of various types and include:

  • Functional conflict: This is a disagreement with plans, policies or procedures,
  • Role-based conflict: This is a disagreement over the role someone is in or asked to perform,
  • Emotional conflict: This type of conflict involves basic feelings of anger, frustration, fear, jealousy etc.

It’s important to identify the type of conflict before trying to sort it out. For example, if you try to fix someone’s emotions that are actually being caused by a functional conflict, the resolution will be short lived. You will need to correct the functional issue first. Make sure the whatever you come up with as a solution there isn’t a road block to prevent it being successful.

Methods of dealing with conflict in your team

Don’t meet with antagonists separately. Allowing each person to individually share their views will only strengthen and polarise each position. They will see it as imperative that you understand their position and side with them. Meet with them together. Allow them to summarise and briefly share their views without the other party interrupting. If there are personal attacks, intervene.

Consider your role as a facilitator. Practice asking questions of those in the conflict that make them think about their position such as:

  • “What are the reasons for you proposing that?”
  • “Can we find a way to do this without criticizing each other personally?”
  • “What could you do to change?”
  • “What can you do more of, less of, start doing?”
  • “What impact do you think your behaviour has on the rest of the team?”
  • “What will you do next time this happens?”
  • “Can you explain that to me in a different way?”
  • “If we cant’ agree, what will the consequences be?”

Come up with some questions of your own that help the people see that you want to help and that you expect them to come up with a solution that will work. It’s not about asking them to shake hands and make up; it’s about coming to an understanding of both sides and seeing the middle ground, a win win if you like.

You can ask them to describe specific actions they would like the other to take with reasons for requesting those actions. For example, “I’d like Peter to give me the weekly data from the team by Thursday at 5pmso I can produce the report by Friday lunchtime.” Help them commit to noticing that the other person has made a change, even if it is small. This is helping to acknowledge the effort of the other person.

Let them know that you will not choose sides and that you expect them to sort out the conflict as adults. If they refuse, explain that you will need to take it further which could lead to disciplinary action (always check with your HR representative first).

Reassure them that you have every confidence in their ability to resolve the issue. Record the agreements and always set a time to review.

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