Navigate conflict and team dynamics in a way that honors the individual and the team
How can you manage disagreements in ways that build personal and collegial relationships rather than harming them? Such disagreements or conflicts will occur between individuals or between groups of people. We will learn in this module about how to navigate and engage conflict in a way that honors the individual and the team.
Assignment #1 // Read the Scripture passage and answer the questions
Assignment #2 // Read the 2 articles below:
Assignment #3 // When conflict arises what is your go to mode of communicating? How could you communicate so that people feel honored and cared for?
Assignment #4 // When is a time in life when conflict is needed? How have you navigated conflict in the past?
Assignment #5 // Find a leader or supervisor that you respect their conflict navigation skills and ask them what resource has been most helpful of them to learn how to navigate conflict and why?
There are lots of passages in the bible that deal with navigating conflict. We have picked just four of them in order to help you see a picture of how biblically we can look at and deal with conflict in a healthy manner.
Colossians 3:12-15 NLT
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Matthew 7:3-5 NLT
3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye 7:3 Greek your brother’s eye; also in 7:5. when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
James 1:19-20 NLT
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
James 5:15 NLT
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
Which of the four passages do you identify with most/least? Why?
What 3-4 characteristics do followers of Jesus need in order to navigate conflict?
If you could sum each passage up with one word about conflict management, what would it be and why?
Using the word from each passage: create a 4-part strategy you could use to navigate conflict and come prepared to share it.
When you think of your own life, which passage has the biggest challenge for you in your leadership?
Look at the four passages and create a four-step strategy you could use for handling conflict.
Successful teams have three things in common:
- They meet their performance goals.
- Their members feel satisfied that they are learning/benefiting from being a part of the team.
- The process the team uses to collaborate sets it up for future success [i] .
Recent research, however, suggests that in as little as five weeks of working together, only about 25 percent of teams meet these criteria [ii] . The rest of the teams typically experience less-than-ideal processes and a decline in performance and/or satisfaction.
So what goes wrong? Most team members report that conflict among team members gets in the way of effective teamwork, and this conclusion is largely supported by academic research. The effect of conflict on teams is not always straightforward, however. Under the right conditions, for example, conflict can stimulate divergent thinking and lead to improved problem-solving. On the other hand, it also tends to increase defensiveness, distract members from effective problem-solving and generate interpersonal animosity. So what determines whether a team can harness the benefits and limit the liabilities of conflict?
More than a decade of research provides a clear answer: how team conflict is managed. Because conflict happens in all teams (even the most effective ones), the presence of conflict has little bearing on whether one team is more successful than another. The factor most important to team success is how teams handle conflict when it does arise — and there are clear and reliable patterns associated with (in)effective conflict management. These patterns center on a critical trade-off that teams implicitly or explicitly make when deciding how to deal with their conflict: the trade-off between getting work done and making individual members happy.
The most effective teams create strategies that do both, but the majority of teams sacrifice one or the other. For example, conflict gets in the way of effective work if the team is unable or unwilling to address the root cause of the conflict. Low-performing teams typically struggle with this (usually because people did not speak their minds) or are unwilling to address the problem (e.g., when there were politics around taking sides or people were just too fed up to even try). This ultimately hurts performance because the inhibiting factors of the conflict are never managed — that is, removed from the team’s process. In terms of individual satisfaction with the team, the distinguishing factor is how proactive versus reactive the team’s approach is to conflict management. Teams that are proactive in identifying conflicts and addressing them before they escalate have more satisfied members. Teams that operate in reactive mode, wherein conflicts take them by surprise or keep the team in constant firefighting mode, have less satisfied members. These trade-offs around performance and satisfaction are summarized in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Patterns in teams’ outcomes according to the processes they create to manage conflict.
It is probably safe to say that very few teams want to be in Quadrants 2 through 4. Teams land there because they do not successfully manage the tension between leveraging individuals’ strengths and addressing their complaints. Put another way, in conflict situations, there are competing interests: What is good for the team is not always what each individual wants or is willing to do. In general, higher-performing teams create conflict-resolution strategies that make it clear how individuals need to contribute to the team and how that contribution aligns with their interests, whereas lower-performing teams focus more on appeasing individuals and addressing idiosyncrasies.
We will next discuss unique differences in how teams in the four quadrants manage conflict. It is important to note that people tend to use the same words (e.g., discussion, compromise, consensus) to describe conflict-resolution strategies, but research has demonstrated that those words represent strikingly different processes, as summarized in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Summary of conflict-resolution strategies used by teams in each quadrant.
Quadrant 1: The Ideal Team
The teams in this quadrant orient themselves to resolve conflict using the principle of equity – each member is asked to contribute his or her fair share only in ways that serve the team. This means that not everyone equally gets what he or she wants, but members usually understand why team decisions are fair and equitable. The strategies unique to these teams include:
- Having explicit discussions about what members want to do versus what the team needs each person to do: Quadrant 1 teams are the only teams that actually divide work based on expertise rather than personal interests, convenience or deadline emergencies.
- Proactively forecasting preventable problems: Most teams have busy people on them, which means (even with the best forecasting) they occasionally will miss a deadline or need help. Ideal teams are disciplined about foreseeing periods of work overload for each member and identifying workflow bottlenecks in advance.
- Taking time to discuss individuals’ compromises: The two practices above are often difficult because they require direct confrontation: telling a member he or she is not the best person for the job or selecting one person’s idea over another’s. The time spent to proactively discuss individual disappointments and to secure solid understanding behind compromises pays off in the long term.
- During conflict, focusing on content over delivery: When these teams have unanticipated conflicts, they “fight” by focusing on the content of the complaint — not the delivery. They do not react to demands and sarcastic or condescending tones, and instead focus on uncovering the underlying causes of the conflict [iii] .
Not using these techniques, in contract, can result in behavior that detracts from team performance and/or satisfaction, as seen in the other quadrants.
Quadrant 2: Feeling Good, Doing Bad
Teams in Quadrant 2 orient themselves to resolve conflict using the principle of equality — or giving equal weight to every individual and his/her interest. This focus on equality among individuals creates a team norm that values consensus and harmony at the cost of decision quality. For example, these teams consider themselves proactive because their discussions identify what it will take to keep each person positive and engaged in the team. This is indeed a good practice, but only when aligned with what the team is trying to achieve.
Quadrant 3: Recovering via Structure
Teams in Quadrant 3 orient themselves to resolve conflict with enforced equity. Unlike the teams in Quadrant 1, Quadrant 3 teams are more reactive in dealing with conflicts that have escalated and disrupted team progress. These teams quickly learn from and address their conflicts, which is why they are able to prevent problems from reoccurring. Having to retroactively fix team problems tends to decrease satisfaction because it places team members in the position of having to do more for the team than expected — or having to play a role they would not otherwise have to if other members had upheld their responsibilities.
Quadrant 4: Minimize Misery/Avoidant
Teams in this quadrant tend to have an unorganized or ad hoc approach to managing their conflict. They not only fail to balance individual versus team interests, they actually fail to address either one. Their strategies focus more on immediate complaints rather than underlying interests. For example, team members make the mistake of arguing about one another’s intentions rather than figuring out how to leverage strengths, they openly tell disruptive members to change a trait or habit rather than figuring out how to minimize a disruptive member’s effect on the team, and often get caught in a distracting negative spiral of interpersonal conflict rather than discussing how to accomplish the team goal.
Sustaining a high-performing, highly satisfied team takes a great deal of maintenance and awareness. Over the lifespan of a team, it is highly likely that it will cycle through several or all the quadrants. Understanding the effect that different orientations toward conflict-management strategies have on a team’s viability is important because it helps a team recognize where there are imbalances that create negative processes and interactions — and where to focus resources to prevent or reverse the negative effects.
“Wherever you have two people with different needs and expectations — and, so, basically, wherever you have two people — you have the potential for conflict,” according to Meredith Richardson, Esq., a mediator, conflict coach and trainer who creates retreats that help partners be their best selves.
She believes conflict gets a bad rap in our culture. While conflict is uncomfortable, it’s perfectly normal, she said. Of course, resolving conflict can be tricky. It’s especially tough when one person — or both — is convinced they’re right, Richardson said.
It’s also hard to resolve conflict when one person avoids it. People who fear conflict stifle their own wants and needs so they don’t disturb others, she said. “That is a tough way to live.”
It’s also tough for others. “It may be that there is no way to address the conflict directly with that person.” And yet their anger slips out in other ways, affecting the relationship.
While navigating conflict may not be easy, there are strategies that can simplify — and enhance — the process. For instance, a simple but important tip is to pick a time to talk that works well for everyone, Richardson said. Here are seven other strategies, from Richardson , to help.
Have a plan.
When you need to have a tough conversation with someone, brainstorm the best ways you can have that discussion, Richardson said. For instance, she suggested asking yourself these questions:
- What’s the best day or time of day for talking?
- Is there someone else I’d like to be there (or not be there)?
- What can I do so that person is able to hear and understand me?
- Will I need to prep for the talk?
- Do I need to deliver the message “in small bites first and then have the hearty discussion at a later date?”
- If I know what they’re going to say, what are the ways I can meet their needs while meeting my own?
Another key is to focus away from wanting to win and toward being open to finding a solution that works for everyone involved, Richardson said. This includes better understanding the other person’s perspective, asking lots of questions and getting as many details as possible.
“First, recognize that most of the time, that person is not doing this behavior intentionally to annoy you,” Richardson said. For the most part people want to be liked by others, she said.
Also, put yourself in their shoes. In fact, “use your whole body.” For instance, sit or stand where your husband was during last night’s fight, she said. Ask yourself how he might’ve been feeling.
Richardson also suggested learning about people in general. “There are countless articles, books, and seminars on people and relationships. The more you learn about others, the better able you are to understand them.”
Point out shifting perspectives.
It’s especially difficult to resolve a conflict with a person who always has to be right, because they may be threatened by your attempts.
Richardson cited Igor Stravinsky’s quote as a good approach: “One’s belief that one is sincere is not so dangerous as one’s conviction that one is right. We all feel we are right; but we felt the same twenty years ago and today we know we weren’t always right.”
Talk to them about how their perspective on what’s right has shifted over time, she said. This may “open the door to them seeing that there can be room for more than one perspective or point of view, that none of us are infallible, that we do make mistakes, hold different beliefs, etc. and it doesn’t make one person bad and the other good, it just is.”
Get to the root of the problem.
“Sometimes, what people are fighting about isn’t really the problem,” Richardson said. And you can’t solve the problem if you don’t know the real issue. Once you know what the problem is, “you can talk about how best to meet that unmet need in the other person.”
Richardson shared this example: One night, Mary goes out, and gets home later than expected. Her partner, David, expresses anger that Mary stayed out so late. However, David really might be upset because he is lonely, feels neglected or jealous or was worried about Mary.
If he felt neglected, the couple can explore if they’re spending enough time together or need more date nights to balance out time with friends, she said. But if David is jealous — because he didn’t like the person Mary was with — the conversation and the solution would be very different.
Stay calm – or take a break.
It’s also important not to get “triggered into a fight, flight or freeze response,” or to take a break when you have been triggered, Richardson said.
Often we perceive conflict as a threat. That’s when our reptilian brain takes over, and we fight, freeze or flee. This prevents us from being able to rationally and logically problem solve, brainstorm and see the situation from the other person’s perspective, she suggests.
However, “Once you’re fully calm, you can tap into your highest and best self — the human brain. Once you’re there, the possibilities are endless.”
Avoid abusive people.
People who are abusive tend to believe their actions are justified and rarely see themselves at fault for anything, Richardson said. So if you’re dealing with such a person, the best approach is to stay away from them. Understand that you can’t fix the person. They must do the work on their own, she explains .
Which of the articles was most helpful to you? Why?
Where have you seen conflict management strategies fail? What happened? What could have been done differently?
On a scale of 1-10 how good are you are recognizing and navigating conflict?
Where are you weak at navigating conflict? How has this module helped you increase your ability in navigating conflict?
What is your plan to navigate your next conflict? How could your 4 part strategy be a helpful guide next time you engage with conflict?
What in this affirmed your leadership when it comes to conflict? Why?
What one idea from this module do you think is most helpful for you in dealing with conflict and honoring people in your personal life, your ministry life, and your career? How?