Halt 'Bad' Conflict Before it Takes Root

Contrary to popular belief, conflict in the workplace can be a good thing.

March 17, 2015

Halt 'Bad' Conflict Before it Takes Root

Contrary to popular belief, conflict in the workplace can be a good thing. For example, a healthy disagreement can ensure that your credit union or project team has considered all sides of an issue and finds the best solution to a complex challenge.

subscribefrontlineBut conflict can turn ugly, too. Learning to recognize the signs of a situation that’s about to take a turn for the worse can prevent you from damaging a relationship with a co-worker. You’ll also head off any conflict with others that distracts from your primary goal of serving members.

Escalating emotions signal that the conversation has become personal, and therefore, detrimental, says Stanford University Graduate School of Business Prof. Lindred Greer, who specializes in organizational behavior.

Greer pinpoints three types of conflict that indicate underlying issues the group should discuss before progressing:

  • Process: When people start arguing about mundane topics like logistics—what time to meet, who’s going to do what, which responsibilities each person should have—typically they’re expressing dissatisfaction with their role on the team.
  • Relationship: Personality clashes and political differences can force other team members to take sides.
  • Status: This involves the respect—or lack thereof—between team members, expressed through either process or relationship conflict.

Ignoring or downplaying these signs can create irreconcilable differences that tear apart a team and might even prompt employees to look for jobs elsewhere.

To resolve bad conflict, follow these three steps:

  1. Figure out what people are fighting about—and make sure the discussion furthers your team’s goals.
  2. Determine why they’re fighting. Does this argument center on the intended focus of the conversation, or is someone indirectly addressing another issue?
  3. Monitor the tone carefully. The moment emotions flare, break off the group meeting before things escalate out of control, and address the individuals going toe-to-toe.

This article first appeared in Credit Union Front Line Newsletter, the monthly sales and service newsletter for branch staff and their managers. Subscribe now to the print edition or PDF version.