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Unhealthy conflict can lead to arguments or a failure to communicate


One of your team’s main strengths is the diversity of people within it. Each person brings a different outlook and a different set of experiences and skills to the team, all of which are essential for generating ideas and solving problems. The downside of diversity is that some personalities may clash to the extent that they threaten the team’s ability to get the work done. This is unhealthy conflict, where people attack each other at an emotional level, in a destructive way, for example:

‘Well, if you’d do what you promise for once, we might get somewhere…’
‘And you could do with getting out of your rut, always the same old story…’
Unhealthy conflict can lead to arguments or a failure to communicate.

Characteristics of conflict

Healthy conflict Unhealthy conflict
Factual   Emotional
Constructive  Destructive
Open   Suppressed
Derived from Heller (1998)
Healthy conflict is when people express different views and opinions in an open, factual way and retain respect for each other, for example:
‘I value all the ideas you’re contributing, but I get annoyed that you did not complete the schedule by Friday as you agreed.’
‘This sounds as if you’re on your usual tack, could you suggest a new approach this time?’
Healthy conflict has positive outcomes:
People feel good about themselves and other team members
Decisions are better than they would be without the conflict.

Conflict may arise between:
yourself and a team member/the team as a whole
individual team members
sub-groups within the team.
As the leader, you need to judge when unhealthy conflict between personalities is getting in the way of the team and needs to be addressed.
Here are five styles of behaviour that people adopt when faced with conflict:
¼br> Confrontation Gets quick result, waste of time if wrong result  ¼br> Collaboration Gets best result and high team commitment, may be time-consuming  ¼br> Compromise May not get best result, but everyone gets something  ¼br> Accommodation Result may be poor because unchallenged  ¼br> Avoidance Just postpones the conflict 

This diagram shows the relationship between these behavioural styles and people’s concern with their own and others’ needs.
[Figure 2.4] Five styles of responding to conflict


Adapted from Adair (1986) and Guirdham (1996), in Thomas (1976)
Here are some tips for dealing with conflict in a healthy way:
Generate an open, trusting atmosphere where people feel safe to disagree with each other
Be open to yourself being a party in the conflict
When you’re not directly involved in the conflict, the most you can do is mediate – the other parties have to sort it out themselves.
Bring the conflict into the open – encourage people to express their opinions fully
Encourage the people involved to look for new elements in the situation, and put themselves in the other person’s shoes
Focus on facts rather than emotions – depersonalise the issue
Where conflict remains, follow through to solve the problem/make a decision
Some conflicts fizzle out once expressed.
Emphasise the positive results of dealing with conflict in a healthy way
[end checklist]
This section has focused on roles and on how to develop effective relationships. Use the Into Action to identify the roles you need in your team and how to provide these roles, and to begin to sort out a problem in the relationships within your team. Section 3 looks at ways of maintaining the team.
Into Action
1 Identify roles which are missing from your team, and ways to provide these roles.
¼br> Missing roles for getting the work done:

Missing roles for helping members function as a team:
  ¼br> How we will provide these roles:

  ¼br> When the roles will be implemented:
  ¼br> Review how the roles have helped the team:
¼br> 2 Identify a relationship problem in your team and plan how to deal with it.
¼br> The problem:
  ¼br> Possible cause(s) of the problem:
  ¼br> Ways to resolve the problem:
  ¼br> What we will do to resolve the problem:

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