Dealing with Conflict
In a dynamic team, conflict is a normal part of the team’s activity and is a healthy sign. It creates learning and development opportunities. If a team has no conflict, it might be a sign of a problem. A team without conflict might be suffering from unhealthy agreements, have a domineering leader who suppresses all conflict and debate, or be performing its task in a routine manner and not trying to improve how it works. Teams often do not handle their conflicts very well. Sometimes, rather than trying to manage their conflicts, they try to ignore or avoid them. This is called “defensive avoidance”. To avoid a conflict, everyone becomes quiet when a controversy occurs. Team members accept what the leader says in order to avoid conflict. The consequences are poor decision making and more problems later in the group’s life.
Teams in Action
Whether conflict has a beneficial or detrimental effect on a work team depends on the type of conflict and the team’s task. Relationship conflicts have a negative effect on team member satisfaction and team performance, but the effects of task conflicts vary.
Task Conflicts. Conflict is sometimes divided into task and process conflict. Task conflict occurs when people performing non-routine tasks differ about what is the best approach. This type of conflict usually has a positive effect on team performance.
Process Conflicts. This type occurs when people who are performing routine tasks have differences over how the team is managing the tasks and coordinating the role assignments of the members. Process conflicts often create disagreements among team members about their roles, which can devolve into relationship issues. Because of this, process conflicts often have negative effects on team member satisfaction and team performance.
The reality is that task and relationship conflict are often correlated. Disagreement on a task issue can lead to personal attacks. It is difficult to say, “I don’t like your ideas” and not have it heard as, “I think you are stupid”. Relationship conflicts often lead to increased task conflicts because of negative emotions that are created. One factor that affects the relationship between task conflict and performance is trust. When team members have a high degree of trust in each other, task-related conflict is less likely to lead to relationship conflict. Teams with high levels of trust can tolerate task-related conflict and use the conflict productively.
Conflict Resolution Approaches. Conflict resolution approaches available to teams vary, depending on the team members’ desire to be assertive and cooperative. Because team members have generally long term relationships with one another, they should try to use a collaborative approach to conflicts whenever possible. There are five different approaches to conflict resolution:
1. Avoidance – Try to ignore the issues or denies that there is a problem. Not confronting & hoping it
will go away (Wishful thinking)
2. Accommodation – Surrender your position in order to be agreeable. Being cooperative but it costs
the team the value of the opinions & ideas of others
3. Confrontation – Acting aggressively to win. Winning seems more important than a good decision
4. Compromise – Balance team goals and relationships, by being more flexible to find a solution
5. Collaboration – Both sides of a conflict have important concerns, the team search for solutions
that satisfy both parties. This requires both trust and respect for the positions of others.
Source: Thomas K.; Extract from Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology 2015