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How to equip teams to handle conflict more successfully

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

According to research, U.S. employers spent approximately $359 billion in paid hours because of workers spending approximately 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict.

What if your team could handle disagreements more successfully?

Would it give you more time? Would it increase team productivity? Would it decrease your personal stress? Would it reduce turnover and absenteeism costs? When I speak at events, the answer is always a resounding yes. It’s not uncommon for leaders to tell me how time consuming and stressful it is to manage team conflict. Or how unresolved conflict is often the cause of losing good people. With intention, strategy and tactics, leaders can help teams feel better equipped to handle disagreements more successfully and work together better to achieve results.

Conflict among team members is inevitable and can arise for a variety of reasons. A few that commonly come up are:

  • workplace behaviors viewed by some team members as annoying

  • unclear roles and responsibilities

  • perceived inequities of resources

  • assigning supervisory or project lead responsibilities with no leadership training

  • mismanagement of organizational change and transition

  • poor communication channels resulting in slow decision-making or missed deadlines

  • misunderstood remarks and comments taken out of context

  • differences over perspectives attributable to age, gender, race, culture or values

It’s important to note that the significance of a conflict will be perceived differently by individual team members. What may seem like a minor situation to one person, may be major to another. That perception is usually influenced by internal and external factors, from how they started their day at home to being left out of an email communication that impacts how they achieve a team goal. High Emotional Intelligence workers can navigate a more productive response.

What is Emotional Intelligence? Emotional Intelligence (EI), sometimes referred to as Emotional Quotient (EQ), is the ability to identify and manage your emotions and express them in ways that are respectful and helpful to those around you. It is also the ability to understand the emotions of people around you and respond with helpful and encouraging feedback. Understanding your emotions and those of others can help you better relate to others, especially when leading or working in a team setting.

What are the key components of Emotional Intelligence? There are four key components of Emotional Intelligence. By nature, we are stronger at some components and not others. However, when integrated into daily practices, Emotional Intelligence can be developed.

Self-awareness: People who are self-aware can both identify and acknowledge their emotions and how they affect their behavior. They know how to use the information to increase their personal understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Empathy for others: People who are empathetic understand their own emotional needs and the emotional needs of those around them. They know how to “read the room” and make the most appropriate response.

Ability to manage your own emotional responses: People who can self-manage have strong communication and time management skills, problem-solving ability and stress management. They work to put themselves into a position that allows them to respond and be at their best, especially during conflict and high-stress situations.

Ability to maintain healthy relationships: People who can maintain healthy relationships prioritize clear communication and influence through the words they say and actions they model, setting the tone for more productive and functional relationships.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important for teams? Emotional Intelligence is important because it allows individuals to develop and maintain productive relationships with coworkers, staff, management and external collaborators. It can also aid in helping teams navigate complex social situations that require an understanding of multiple peoples' perspectives and feelings.

Getting along, collaborating, innovating and resolving conflicts productively are some benefits of having teams with greater Emotional Intelligence. Whether you lead a business, team or project, an effective team must learn to communicate and interact successfully to be effective. Emotional Intelligence is the tool that will get them there.

Teams that lack Emotional Intelligence struggle to collaborate and work together to achieve results. This creates frustration, stress and burnout among themselves and the leaders who guide them. It doesn’t have to be that way.

What Can Leaders Do to Help Teams Resolve Conflict with Greater Emotional Intelligence? Greater team Emotional Intelligence happens through a combination of solid leadership, clear communication and access to good resources, to create an environment that motivates and inspires people to bring their best effort every day to their work. Use the four strategies below to foster an environment to develop a team that can respond with greater Emotional Intelligence. To optimize these strategies, administer an Emotional Intelligence assessment so teams can use the insights for individual growth and better team outcomes. Learn more about assessments HERE.

Strategy #1: Create opportunities for teams to improve self-awareness and emotional management. Having good Emotional Intelligence is not only about how you interact with others, but the foundation of Emotional Intelligence is about how you understand yourself. Team members who have an awareness of their own emotions, communication blind spots, and emotional reactions are more likely to be able to regulate emotions. They understand the importance of managing their stress and are open to find what works for them, to do so. They know how to react more empathetically when someone on their team is stressed, venting or experiencing a personal or professional problem.

What to do: Bring the team together in-person or remotely and use the Pomodoro Technique to tackle a project under deadline. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple and effective way to manage time at work. The basis of the technique is creating a schedule for when you are going to work and when you will take a break. It’s a commonly used technique to help teams have better focus, reduced fatigue and a shared accountability to get the work done. It can also serve as a space to boost team trust, creativity and innovation.

Strategy #2: Help teams collaborate more successfully and make better connections. A highly collaborative team should be able to work cohesively and understand what each member is capable of in terms of time management habits, emotional stamina, physical energy, quality of output, and motivation.

What to do: Pair teammates up to work on small, but challenging projects. This positions them to have an opportunity to develop a deeper level of professional trust with their teammates, establish better communication and makes working together within the broader team more successful.

Strategy #3: Help teams manage emotions to resolve conflicts more successfully. Even the simplest conflicts can create bottlenecks, pause and even stop the progress of work. Conflict inside of teams often requires a significant amount of Emotional Intelligence, especially in high-pressure situations, deadline driven roles, juggling competing priorities, and quick decision making, to name a few. Emotional Intelligence gives team members the communication tools to feel better equipped to discuss issues before they fester into major problems, with better empathy and an openness to consider the other person’s perspective.

What to do: Develop an agreement, together with your team, to set guidelines for how conflict and disagreements will be handled. Include in the agreement how the team will communicate respectfully, listen without interruption and to strive for a solution everyone can live with.

Strategy #4: Help teams understand each other’s capabilities. Communicating the roles and responsibilities of team members contributes to how well each team member understands their role and that of their colleagues. It positions them to respond with empathy and contributes to successful outcomes for the team and the vision of the organization.

What to do: Provide opportunities for team members to cross-train. This helps teammates gain an understanding of each other’s role and responsibilities, knowledge they can use when integrating the work of their teammate to achieve a goal.

There is a lot of research that show leaders with high Emotional Intelligence are more successful. The same applies for teams. The benefits are bountiful when leaders intentionally encourage and train teams to have greater Emotional Intelligence. While Emotional Intelligence cannot be forced inside a team, leaders can create conditions that foster it and training to develop it, so that teams have every opportunity to work together more successfully.

Want more ways to equip your team manage conflict more successfully?

Sign up for my latest training, From Conflict to Collaboration HERE. Learn the strategies I used in my 20+ years of serving in some of the highest levels of local government leadership in roles like Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief and Senior Advisor to help teams handle conflict and work better together to achieve results. Now, I show my clients how to do the same.

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