Navigating conflict is challenging. Each one of us has a different relationship to conflict. I know people who thrive on conflict and debates – if they haven’t had a robust discussion by lunch time, they feel they are having a boring day! I know others who hate conflict and will do anything to avoid confronting it or dealing with it. This happens even if the cost of that action is detrimental to their well-being. Personally, I grew up hating conflict. I had to learn to deal with it, especially in the workplace. Through trial and error, I have developed ways of navigating conflict. I now teach workshops around this concept – the results have been impressive for those involved.

Conflict is Expensive

I work with many teams. Some flourish, others limp along. Regardless of your team composition, character or purpose, no team can function optimally if they are dealing with conflict. Conflict is a distraction. Conflict can bring about the worst in your team members. Navigating conflict is not easy. Emotions get in the way, not to mention egos. It is especially difficult if the source of the conflict is a senior member of your team or your organisation. Many people live with the negative impact of conflict rather than risk their job security addressing the key issue. Others leave as they are not prepared to work in such a toxic environment. Losing key staff due to unresolved conflict is expensive and foolish.

Navigating conflict requires a reality check.

Often, conflict is present, even perpetuated. Everyone is aware that it exists. You and I can see the impact it has on the team. High levels of stress are present. Tempers flare up, patience and understanding evaporate .It is a pain to be part of this team. Despite all this evidence, all too often, it is ignored. It’s as if it’s easier to live with the consequences of conflict rather than deal with it. Let’s face it – it takes energy and guts to take conflict on. However, I would suggest that the alternative is far more costly. Relationships can flounder and be permanently damaged if conflict continues unabated. Clients can be lost if no one is willing to make a move to resolve the conflict. At times, the action that would make the difference is a simple apology, or perhaps resisting the urge to keep on having the last word.

Navigating conflict becomes easier if an outsider is called in

I recommend that the people involved get together and address the issue. Each person can have their say and be heard. That means no interruptions, no justifications, simply listening. Speak about the conflict itself. Speak about the impact it is having on the team. All too often, teams have multiple conversations around ‘doing’. Task-focused discussions happen every day. Rarely do teams have conversations based on ‘being’. How we treat one another is important. Conflict is often in the space of ‘being’, not always exclusively in the space of ‘doing’. An outsider can usually recognise and speak about what they are seeing more easily than someone in the team itself.

Ask the crucial question

Next comes a crucial question. How are you personally contributing to the conflict? The games we play with conflict can result in us refusing to engage, or refusing to accept any type of compromise. Perhaps your contribution involves complaining incessantly about the issue behind the scenes.

What’s Next?

From there, each person commits to making a contribution that is positive. I know this sounds easy and simplistic. Its not easy. it is not simplistic. This process works. If you need help navigating conflict, ask someone to come in and run a workshop for you. Understand that a workshop will make a difference. In my experience, you’ll need to schedule follow-up sessions. Conflict is complicated. Revisit the issue to make lasting progress.I teach this material to teams in different countries. Each time the participants walk away with new insights that allow them to make progress on navigating conflict. What are you waiting for?

Resources for you

In my book Speak Connect Succeed – Build Your Reputation As You Speak, I devote an entire chapter to how you can speak in times of conflict. Your words, if chosen wisely, can help you navigate conflict in a positive way.