• Healthy Conflict

    Challenges and actions

  • Is lack of conflict a challenge in your team?


    On the surface lack of conflict sounds like a good thing, but often it’s a sign of either apathy or of team members suppressing their disagreements.

    Is apathy a challenge for you?:

    • Is your work not important to you?
    • Is the success of your team not important to you?
    • Do you not really care if commitments are met?

    If any of these questions rings true to you, it might be time to check if your engagement can be re-built. Or, if not, look for another role or another job. For inspiration on how to re-build engagement, consider visiting Challenges & Actions for SHARED RESULTS.

    Another possible challenge is that you deliberately avoid expressing disagreement. Is this true for you?:

    • Do you often disagree with decisions – without expressing your views?
    • Do you often feel in opposition to the general agreement in your team – without expressing your views?
    • Do you often feel that certain team members should get more push-back – without expressing your views?

    We all lose a little energy every time we ignore important disagreements. So, if any of the above statements are true for you, solving this can help you win back some energy and motivation.

    Pick only one or two areas to work with, and then work your way from there. Start with challenges where the following criteria apply:

    Areas where:

    • Current behaviors are in conflict with team and/or company interests
    • You would personally be willing to engage yourself in finding better answers and/or solutions

    If your team has a history for suppressing disagreement you must be patient. And instead of bashing out with all your views and opinions, it’s often better to start with a few open questions, hoping that one or more team colleagues react.

    Examples of good open questions are:

    • What do we want to achieve by this initiative?
    • How does this correspond with our shared ambition and “way of doing things”?
    • Does anyone see alternatives we should also consider?

    It’s a good idea to prepare yourself, and to be ready if someone asks for your personal opinions on these questions – but try to wait until someone asks you.

    If is a new habit that the team needs to build, you will need to repeat your efforts.

    Your team

    A practical way to deal with lack of conflict is to practice discussing controversial issues in the team.

    It’s important to create positive experiences where everyone feel that it is safe to disagree, so you should not start with the most controversial subject possible.

    Instead, look for an issue that’s not too sensitive and start there. Later, you can work your way up to more painful issues.

    A few ground rules are:

    • Make the discussion as positive and constructive as possible
      • Avoid blaming anyone – and do not engage in “who said what” or any nitty gritty details
    • Focus on the intent: What you want to achieve as a team, and why it’s important
    • Ask open questions, inviting everyone to pitch in

    If possible, test your approach with a trusted peer before testing it in the full team. You can also consider making an alliance with the leader of the team (if you are not the leader) and get acceptance to put the issue on the agenda in a team meeting.

  • Is aggressive conflict a challenge in your team?


    Aggressive conflict distracts the team by removing focus from the more important issues, and it undermines team collaboration.

    If you are part of these conflicts start by analyzing your own role. Try to be as objective as possible:

    • Do you sometimes turn small disagreement into conflicts?
    • Do you spend enough time to fully understand opposing views before sharing your own?
    • Do your clashes most often happen with the same individuals?
    • Do specific individuals in the team often provoke you?
    • Do you hold grudges against any individuals in the team?

    When looking for solutions, remember that disagreements are fundamentally healthy as they often spark new ideas. So, your aim is not to suppress disagreements – rather to find a healthier format of disagreement.

    As you can see from the list of questions, conflicts can stem from many different causes, and therefore good solutions will vary. Consider your analysis of your role in the clashes – and then pick the best advice below:

    • If you hear an argument that makes no sense as you see it do not assume that you are right. Instead, ask questions, assuming that there might be a point to be made
    • Try to find areas of common ground where you and your “opponent” agree on what you both want to achieve
    • Ask a third person in the room to help bridge the disagreement (e.g. ask: “What are you hearing when listening to us?”)
    • Avoid getting emotionally agitated in disagreements (count to 10, meditate every morning - or whatever works for you)

    Your team

    Consider if the challenge can be tracked down to one, or a few individuals, who repeatedly ca distractions and waste the time and energy of the team.

    If this is the case, you can approach the problem in two ways: “In-meeting” or “person-to-person”. In-meeting: Often clashes can be managed if people who are not engaged in the conflict interferes as the clash occurs. Consider questions or comments such as:

    • What exactly are you disagreeing on?
    • Is it important to reach an agreement to this question right now?
    • Which data are we missing to make an informed decision on this?
    • Let’s take a quick tour around the table: Where does each of us stand on this?
    • Dear both: You have now spent X-minutes disagreeing on topic-Y – we need to move on now.

    Person-to-person: If the challenge is tied to a specific individual, or the same two people, it might be an idea to arrange a meeting outside of the team setting to freshen the air.

    If you are not the leader of the team, or don’t have the direct authority on the topics of clashes, consider teaming up with a peer or with your leader.

    Start by asking open questions into a recent conflict. If needed, mention how you experienced the clash, and why you found it disturbing. Refrain from blaming or being emotional – a rational approach is more impactful.

    If possible, try to get agree on some ground rules to avoid clashes, and get explicit permission to interfere if needed.