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3 Ways to Deal with Conflict


November 10, 2020

By Rowan Van Dyk

3 Ways to Deal with Conflict

5 min

Dealing with conflict in a team or in the workplace is not always easy, or pleasant for that matter. There will always be conflict, yet we seldom want to deal with the conflict for fear or hurting someone’s feeling, for fear of jeopardizing someone’s position or livelihood or because we don’t like confrontation. You have to realize that sometimes conflict is a good thing in a team and sometimes it is a bad thing, but either way you will have to deal with the conflict.

I had a heart attack during December 2019 and discovered I was also diabetic. The doctor suggested I get lots of exercise as this would help control the blood sugar levels better. I used to run when I was younger, and I really enjoyed it, but I now have a condition in my right knee known as Osteophytes. This is basically a bone growing out of my knee joint and it causes me much discomfort when I walk, let alone run.

This leaves me with three different options of dealing with this situation that will allow me to continue walking regularly and getting the much needed exercise. I could just leave it be and keep taking pain medication in an attempt to manage the pain and get through the day. Alternatively, I could have what is known as an Orthoscopy where they can remove the spur, they grind it off, using non-invasive key-whole surgery. Lastly, I could take a more drastic route and have knee replacement surgery. Each of these options offer me certain solutions to deal with the pain, some more permanently than others.

The first option, to push through the pain, requires only continuous use of medication, and I would not be out of action a tall. Whereas the second option requires non-invasive surgery to temporarily relieve the situation, it grows back again after 10-15 years, and would put me out of action and not walking for 4-6 weeks. The last option requires surgery to replace the knee and remove the old knee but I would out of action for at least 3-4 months.

So how does this apply to leadership you may ask? Well, your team is like my knee – you could be faced with any one of the solutions mentioned here. If you have someone in your team that is the cause of the conflict, or is promoting the conflict for whatever reason, you will have one of these three options to apply.

In the case of my knee, I can push through the pain but I cannot walk as often, or a briskly as I need to or for long distances. In your team you have someone who is the source of the conflict so, because you do not want a confrontation, you let it slide and you push through the pain. The problem with this approach is that your team is not as productive as they should be – they are focused more on the conflict than on the task at hand. Focusing on the conflict all the time distracts them and they are not focused on the task at hand or achieving the objective. The source of conflict causes discomfort and animosity amongst the team so they are less productive.

You, as the leader on the other hand, are not also not as productive as you should be because you are constantly putting out firesand trying to diffuse the conflict situation. You can’t get your own tasks completed as you should, but furthermore you are spending all your time dealing with the conflict which becomes very counter-productive.

This approach of pushing through the pain may work for a while but eventually something will have to give – either the team will suffer, and you as the leader, or the conflict situation will lose impetus and fizzle out.

The fizzle out option may provide relief for a short period but at some point you may be forced to deal with the conflict properly. If you don’t deal decisively with the conflict, and you let it continue and even fizzle out, it will resurface again at some point. Therefore, this is not the best solution, but it could work for shorts periods of time.

The next option is to have short term surgery, as in the case of my knee, and address the conflict head-on. To do this you might be required to provide counselling or training, or even redeploy the team member causing the conflict elsewhere.

Let’s look at the three possibilities of this solution:

1.      Counselling could help you and the team member work through what the root of the conflict is and it is possible to clear the problem up completely. You have to approach the issue head-on and sit the team member down to discuss the problem. The best way is to not cause tension by having a judgmental or antagonistic attitude. The team member is not going to openly discuss the issue with you if they are going to be afraid of retribution all the time. The discussion will need to becalm and non-threatening and this would then create a situation where the team member would feel confident to discus the issue truthfully knowing your sole intention is to solve the issue and not to “nail” them. You might be required to conduct these discussions several times before the conflict issue is resolved, or at the least the team member acknowledges that there is an issue and they might be the cause.

It could be that the conflict is being caused because the person causing the conflict does not have all the necessary skills to perform their function in the team adequately. The conflict could be due to additional stress being placed on the rest of the team to pick up the slack of the one team member that is not performing to full capacity due to lack of certain skills. By providing additional training it could require the specific team member to be out of the team for the period of the training. This would require careful communication with the rest of the team so they realize what you are busy implementing and that it will benefit them all in due course.

Training could also offer a more permanent solution for resolving the conflict, unless of course the person has all the required skills but something is causing them to not want to apply those skills – the root of the conflict. You would have to establish this through the counselling sessions. When you are successful , you will again have a well-functioning team without the conflict.

2.     A second solution to the conflict situation may be to redeploy the person causing the conflict. By removing them from the team and placing them in another team you could successfully end the conflict. This is effectively taking this conflict out of the team so they can function optimally without the constant conflict. It does require that you place the person causing the conflict somewhere else, but this could effectively resolve the conflict as they are now surrounded by a totally different group of team members.

Although this will clear up the issue in your current team, it could resurface somewhere else or in the next team again. In many cases it could be a permanent solution as it is not always going to flareup again – it might though. If the conflict does flare up again then you will know that that specific individual is the root of the conflict and you would then be required take more drastic action.

3.     In the gospel of Matthew in the bible both in chapter 5 verse 30 and again in chapter 18 verse8, Jesus instructs His disciples to cut off the foot or hand that is causing them to sin. He warns them that it is better to have a limb less than to face the consequences. This could be another way to deal with the conflict. The third option open to you as the leader could very well bee to remove the person causing the conflict from the team entirely. This does not mean re-deploying them, it means terminating them from the team completely.

As this is a drastic step and it has a ringing of finality to it, it needs careful consideration before being implemented. It might be wise to first try out the first two steps prior to terminating them. Furthermore, you need to make absolutely sure that they are the real reason for the conflict and that there are no other alternatives to resolve the ongoing conflict.

Having to constantly deal with the pain in my knee is unpleasant, to say the least, and ultimately the best way to deal with it is to remove it completely. In your team you may eventually reach a point where you need to simply “cut the conflict out”. This would require getting rid of the individual, or individuals, causing the conflict by removing them permanently (dismissing them). As Jesus said in Matthew that it is better to have a limb less than face the dire consequences, so it might be better for the team, and the objectives, as a whole to rather remove the individual causing the conflict.

I would suggest that you first attempt some of the other options t resolve the conflict, but if you realize that the conflict is severe enough to not warrant it, then remove the conflict permanently. Explore as many options as you can before cutting the limb off.

Remember, in the case of my knee, having surgery to replace the knee is both costly and time-consuming. Removing an individual and then replacing them with someone else is also costly and time-consuming. The team have to function harder without the individual you removed and this might cost overtime pay for the team members left behind. Furthermore, the new individual may need training which would not only cost money but keep them from the team for a period of time.