Last Updated 13 Mar 2020

Conflict management in a team

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Definition of Conflict

Relationships among social entities may become inconsistent when two or more of them desire a similar resource that is in short supply; when they have partially exclusive behavioral preferences regarding their joint action; or when they have different attitudes, values, beliefs, and skills. “Conflict is the perception of differences of interests among people” (Thompson, 2001). Another definition of conflict would be

“Conflict is a process of social interaction involving a struggle over claims to resources, power and status, beliefs, and other preferences and desires. The aims of the parties in conflict may extend from simply attempting to gain acceptance of a preference, or securing a resource advantage, to the extremes of injuring or eliminating opponents.” (Bisno, 1988)

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The theme of conflict has been with us and has influenced our thinking from time immemorial. It received different degrees of emphasis from social scientists during various periods of history. Conflict resolution is a tool that can be used in most situations and with most types of disputes. If everyone thought the same, looked the same, and acted the same, conflict would probably not exist. On one hand, the diversity and differences between team members can enhance the intellectual and cultural aspects of a project. But, on the other hand, these same differences can escalate issues if specific guidelines are not set to help avoid them.

Levels of Conflict

Understanding the different types of conflicts will make it easier to manage the conflict situations. Conflicts will occur with indifference to our best intentions. There is no one fits all solution the will specifically deal with every type of team conflict that can exist. The ability of the team members to effectively identify and apply the appropriate resolution is critical to the success of the teams' defined goals. Although conflicts will arise, it is possible to resolve conflicts and disagreements by clarifying expectations, keeping open communication, and encouraging feedback among its members. The diversity of ideas, talents, and experience with a team is the focal difference between working independently and as part of a group.

A team is a group of people who work together to achieve a common goal. Members of teams should focus on the successful fruition of the defined goal or goals, not only of the individual but, more importantly, the team as a whole. To have a successful team we need to consider certain factors. First, what is the character and personality of each member? Understanding the nuances of your partners is beneficial when working to complete individual and joint tasks. Members need to be responsible for the task and or tasks they are assigned.

A breakdown in responsibility can be detrimental to the defined common goal or goals and team unity. The members need to clearly understand the common goals as defined by the team and the best organizational way to achieve it. If each member is not working in at least a general sense of unison, the defined goal may never come to realization. Timetables play a vital role in achieving team-oriented goal. (Kheel, 2001) Members should be able to follow the timetable that has been set to complete their task or to the best of their ability within the allotted time.

Team members need to work together to resolve any conflicts that may occur between them. It is critical to the team that individuals work openly together to help each other solve problems that are affecting the team or one of its members. Each member is different. They do not think the same and have differing opinions, which may cause clashes. Team members have to learn how to recognize these situations and correct them before they become problems that will be irresolvable by the group. Problems should be resolved in a way that is in the best interest of the group and does not alienate one member for another. The team needs enough comradery and responsibility to accomplish its task and implement its ideas.

Team work and group interrelations are not as simple as people think, but can me made easier if all the members strive to stop conflict before it becomes detrimental to the team. (Cloke, 2000) The productivity of a team may be affected in both positive and negative ways. It is up to the team members to determine which one it will be. Group activities and tasks will be more professional and well rounded in their entirety if the individuals in the group are able to consciously and fully commit to turning any conflict that arises into a source of constructive learning that will bring the group closer and make the task more enjoyable.

Conflicts or disagreements can occur with our spouse, kids, family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. It may happen for almost any reason, but most often the reasons are related to politics, religion, personal beliefs or culture. Conflicts may occur due to personality differences, or one of the members may not like other member. Conflicts can be the cause of a lot of disparity in a group, but if managed correctly it can be the cause of a tremendous amount of comradery and friendship. It is up to the members of the group to think before they act or speak to help make sure that any comments or thoughts will not be taken out of context. The same members also need to listen to their other group members with an open mind and try not to take what others say personally.

Conflict among team members can be constructive or destructive depending upon how the team resolves the discord. The background, lifestyle and work ethic differ from team member to team member, but these unique qualities should not overpower the teams' defined goals. Having heated and insulting discussions will jeopardize the quality of the teams work and negatively impact the desired goal. Each member should take care to understand that personal opinions and feelings are by in large for the betterment of the team. Members should express their ideas freely so they can be openly discussed with the team.

Once the team begins to discuss the main point or points of conflict, each member should provide input into a prudent way to achieve the desired outcome for the team. It is always important in these discussions to consider other members' opinions and concerns. Take one issue at a time; discuss it, brainstorm different solutions and attempt to resolve your conflict through positive communication. Conflicts, like team members, have many differences.

Some members may choose to avoid controversial issues, while others may have their own personal agenda with the project. Numerous types of disagreements and conflicts can occur on the road to achieving the teams' defined goal. Members may personally believe that their opinions are inferior to other members or the team as a whole. These individual feelings will cause friction between members if not addressed in an open and positive manner. Conflict in inescapable but understanding your teammates can help promote a better working team.

Causes of Conflict

Usually we deal with people from different backgrounds, and age disparities, which may cause conflict because of differing lifestyles and life experiences. Older people believe that they have more experience and are wiser. Young people want to do things in their own way; many times they choose ways just to be stubborn. Young people are more open to take risks, sometimes unnecessarily.

We don't see or think about things in the same way. Everyone believes that his or her point of view is correct. Some people refuse to understand or accept other people's opinion or points of view. There are some close-minded people who do not accept the changes that occur in life. It is difficult to deal with people that are like this. Disagreement does not have to be disrespectful or harmful to a team or an individual.

Many times we can not understand why people do things, until we know something about their past life, background or their environment, both culturally and socially. Each team member has his or her own experiences to draw knowledge and insight from in their everyday lives. People need to learn from their experiences in life and work. Every event that takes place in our lives helps make us the people that we are. These events shape our beliefs, actions and feelings about almost everything we talk about or do.

When in a team environment it is essential that we enter into an open forum discussion with an open mind. We need to be open to other people's feelings and beliefs, even if they differ from our own. Many people will share the same opinions about some ideas, and each will add some of their own experience, knowledge and beliefs into the discussion. Differing opinions can easily cause problems, but if the group or individuals are open and understanding to other people's thoughts and beliefs, major conflicts can be avoided. Even if the members never agree completely, there can be a happy medium. The world would be a very boring and sad place if everyone had the same thoughts and opinions about everything.

The resolution of conflict is at the heart of a successful team. Regardless of the talent or desire of the team to succeed, the Achilles Heel of conflict must be overcome. Be an understanding and informative team member. This is to infer that you must try to understand about the other members of your team. If personal information is available about your team members, read about and correspond with them so members will have a better insight of each other.

If the team can correspond openly about concerns or disagreements there will be less individual withdrawal. For an individual or team to be adept at conflict resolution they must first recognize that potential conflicts exist. Once this fact is revealed, it is necessary that the individual or team members acknowledge when a conflict presents itself and work together to determine what the cause of the conflict is and how best to resolve it. Team members should work together to discuss the aspects of the conflict.

Each member should offer their own separate suggestions to possibly solve the conflict and return the team back towards the common goal. The team should discuss all suggested possible resolutions and choose one solution by majority rule. Once a way to resolve the conflict has been determined, the solution needs to be implemented, and if necessary rules should be made and followed by all members of the team so the team can be successful. (Engleberg, 2003)

Every member should be a custodian of the team success. A team can be made up of two or more members attempting to achieve a common goal. Each individual team member has a responsibility to the success of the defined goal of the team. With this in mind, questions must be articulated to draw out information that will contribute to resolution of the conflict. The following approach, although not fool proof, will provide the individual and the team with the best option for creating team continuity, trust and a good working relationship. Asking questions in a non-confrontational manner will provide for a more responsive team member.

Conflict is an inevitable and often an unavoidable aspect of working in a team. If dealt with effectively, however, conflict and disagreements can enhance the individual's appreciation of human diversity. The team should communicate openly and honestly in a non-threatening fashion and focus on the betterment of yourself and the team. If conflict arises be considerate and understanding with the focus on achieving the team's goal with the team and as a team. When working with team we as individuals have to remember that the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual. When we remember this and act with this point in mind, the team will have a great chance to succeed. If the team wins, you win.


Thompson, L., Aranda, E., & Robbins, S, (2001).Tools for Teams: Building effective teams in the workplace Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Engleberg, I., Wynn, D, and Schuttler, R (2003) Working in Groups: Communication principles and strategies (3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 147

Cloke, K and Goldsmith, J. (2000). Resolving Conflict at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kheel, A. (2001). The Keys to Conflict Resolution: Proven Methods for Resolving

Disputes Voluntarily. Four Walls Eight Windows

Bisno, H. (1988). Managing conflict. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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