This is Part 4 of our blog series Building Effective Teams. You can find the first three parts here. 

“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself” - Cheryl Richardson

On to the second layer of building an effective team: Surfacing Conflict. I will admit that my opinion on conflict has changed over the years. As a young nurse I was afraid of it, worried how my colleagues would react. Would they get defensive or think I didn’t know anything? Fast forward ten years. Experience taught me to be comfortable with conflict as a necessary evil, but I was completely puzzled when my boss insisted that it was a positive thing. Finally, I realized that conflict, handled wisely, could create opportunities for a discussion that often propelled us to great results.

What changed for me? Knowing how to tell the difference between healthy conflict and conflict that is not handled well.

A few tips for handling conflict in a healthy, effective way:

  1. Consider your mindset.
    Do you want to avoid a disagreement at all costs, or do you see it as an opportunity to learn and develop relationships? (Click here to further dive into more perspectives on conflict.)
  2. Ask questions and truly listen to others.
    People usually have a reason for their stance. 
  3. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
    Where are they coming from? What perspectives are they considering? 
  4. Find common ground.
    For example, we both want what is best for this patient. Knowing that we can agree on that, what is the best way to move forward? 
  5. Be aware of your emotions.
    Take deep breaths, or a break if you need it!
  6. Stay focused on the problem at hand.
    Don't get distracted by side issues that might not be relevant. 

Once you have the tools to handle conflict well, the next step is to focus is on Commitment to Decisions and Standards, which is the pyramid layer that builds on trust and surfacing conflict.  It's important to get others involved and hear different perspectives while making decisions and setting standards. However, those things won't matter if the decisions and standards aren't clear. 

Have you ever walked into a conversation at work that sounds something like, “What are we supposed to be doing? I never know anything around here!”  This usually indicates a need for better communication about what decisions are being made and the standards that will be upheld. 

How does your team do with committing to decisions and standards?  What things could be done to get better?

For more information on team commitment, click here.

References and Resources: 

Workplace Conflict: Friend or Foe?

Lombardo, Michael M. (2014). FYI: For Your Improvement - Competencies Development Guide. 6th ed. Los Angeles: Lominger Korn Ferry.

Megan Wittmann

Written by Megan Wittmann

Megan is a Client Engagement Manager at Mursion. Megan has also served as a Clinical Nurse, and has worked in healthcare education and organizational development.