build conflict competence on your team

#98 Six Practices to Build Conflict Competence on Your Team

Conflict is a normal part of team relationships. In fact, differences between team members are usually not problematic in themselves, but how teams work with their differences can be. You have to be able to connect with each other over differences to build conflict competence on your team. When you do, clashes of viewpoints or disagreement over proposed courses of action can be a source of creativity and innovation. Here are some specific suggestions to consider.

build conflict competence on your team

Take time to investigate the origins of different viewpoints between individuals. They are often based on culture, life experience, or values. You can ask, “When did you first see it that way and what led to your viewpoint?” or use mediator/author Ken Cloke’s prompt, “Tell us a story from your life that illustrates why you feel so strongly about this issue.” Understanding the origin of differences helps to normalize them.

Build new perspectives out of differences. Two team members may see a situation differently, but why? What is the evidence or assumption that their viewpoints are resting on? Why does each of them rely on these supports to their viewpoints over other evidence or assumptions? Together as a team, look into the merits and weaknesses of the viewpoints and deconstruct the viewpoints. Look for the worth in each and assemble a newly constructed third way of seeing the issue.

Create a set of guidelines that establish some protocols for your team meetings, including how you would like to interact with each other. The act of creating the guidelines and regularly reviewing how they are working (perhaps monthly or quarterly) is as important as the guidelines themselves. The review process ensures that you are evolving and building your working relationships. The review also serves to reduce unnecessary conflict, so the conversations are an important contribution to developing the conflict competence of the team.

Establish a commonly understood way of having a difficult conversation. Implementing a language and method that everyone on the team knows and understands means that team members know what to expect from each other and what steps to take when they are in a conflict with each other.  A good set of practices will lead to better outcomes. The agreed-upon way to have a difficult conversation can be used in team meetings as well as in one-on-one interactions. 

Make the work of maintaining good working relationships a job responsibility. This means that if individuals on a team are not getting along, they have a responsibility to work at understanding each other better and figuring out how to interact constructively where their roles overlap. It also means that their differences are not entirely a private matter; it is acceptable for other team members to ask at a meeting how work on their relationship is going.

If you are earnest about wanting to address and work with conflict more effectively, add it as a topic to annual and quarterly planning sessions. As with any change you would like to make, it can help to formulate a specific conflict competence goal that you would like to achieve.

Here is a summary of the six practices outlined above that will build conflict competence on your team:

  1. Take time to investigate the origin of differences
  2. Build new perspectives out of differences
  3. Create a set of guidelines for team meetings
  4. Learn a common method of having a difficult or awkward conversation
  5. Make the work of maintaining constructive working relationships a job responsibility
  6. Add the development of conflict competence as a topic for annual and quarterly planning

This post has focused on developing conflict competence on your team. You can also look deeper into underlying causes of conflict. Blog post 91, Team Health Builds Conflict Competence, offers some links between team dynamics and conflict.

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