Conflict resolution has a lot that teams can learn from. These conflict resolution techniques can help your team communicate and work better–and create longer-lasting bonds in the process.
In our recent blog post we discussed the process of conflict resolution. Conflict resolution offers a powerful way to lead teams to resolving conflicts in a way that reduces aggression and deescalates emotions in the moment. It also focuses the two sides of the conflict towards finding a workable solution for both parties.
While the process itself is worth using for reducing conflict on teams, conflict resolution is also beneficial for teaching teams a number of skills that can be used in lots of different situations. These conflict resolution techniques are worth looking at, and so in the following, we’ll be looking at ten of these skills that are particularly useful for teams.
A quick review of conflict resolution
Just to review, conflict resolution seeks to guide arguments and conflicts towards an end goal–such as an agreement, understanding or treaty–that both sides can agree to, and which can effectively end hostilities. Keeping this end goal in mind, and having an end goal to work towards in the first place, are both central to conflict resolution.
The goals of conflict resolution are therefore:
- To produce a solution that all parties can agree to.
- To work as quickly as possible to find this solution.
- To improve the relationships between the sides in the conflict.
To affect these goals, conflict resolution utilizes the following process to get conflicting sides to come together, talk the problem out, and come up with a solution:
- Recognition of the conflict
- Communication between both sides
- Understand the conflict
- Brainstorm possible resolutions
- Use a third party mediator
- Explore alternatives
- Agree on a plan
- Monitor the impact of any agreements
- Hold team members to the agreement through responsibility and accountability
Conflict resolution techniques
Now that we’ve reviewed what conflict resolution is and what the process of conflict resolution entails, we can get into some conflict resolution techniques and skills that will be useful for your team when dealing with challenges or trying to find new ideas and ways of solving problems.
1. Focus on remaining calm
One of the most useful conflict resolution techniques is staying calm in the face of a conflict or challenge. When conflicts occur, conflict resolution encourages deescalation and finding a peaceable and rational solution. Getting upset simply makes the situation worse.
This technique isn’t just for the people involved in a conflict, but for everyone around too. It can be tempting to get agitated when there is a heated debate or conflict going on, or to jump in and take a side. But conflict resolution requires outside parties who can act as objective observers, so when you see a conflict or stress point occurring on the team, the best thing to do is to remain composed and attempt to calm both sides down.
This is also practical when the team is facing a major challenge, too, which can cause a lot of anxiety and worry. Seeking to remain calm and objective during these situations can help guide the team forward and towards a productive solution.
2. Empathy: Listen to Understand instead of listening to argue
Empathy is one of the other major conflict resolution techniques that teams would do well to learn. We’ve talked about empathy before in terms of emotional intelligence, and why it is crucial for teams to have in order to create a more trusting and productive environment.
With conflict resolution though, the main emphasis of empathy is on listening as a way of de escalation and reaching understanding. Team members who are angry or upset often just want to know that they are being heard and that their opinions have value. That’s why they are lashing out in the first place–they feel like their opinions are being neglected, and that their self-esteem is being threatened.
Sitting down and listening to other team members’ perspectives therefore acknowledges their feelings and paves the way for an environment where the team can work together to solve the problem at hand.
3. Mediation: Make points tactfully
During the conflict resolution process, meditation is key. Mediation means controlling a conversation so that it doesn’t get out-of-hand or spill over into further conflicts. Basically, mediation is about cooling down emotions so that you can have a productive dialogue.
One of the central conflict resolution techniques that mediation teaches is making points tactfully. In other words, think before you speak. This is important not only for those in a conflict, but also outside observers and third-party mediators.
Thinking tactfully on teams can help make meetings more productive and less volatile, and ensure that members’ feelings aren’t unintentionally hurt. It’s another aspect of empathy–being conscious about how our words and actions can affect other people’s emotions.
4. Problem Solving: Tackle the problem instead of attacking the person
Probably one of the most practical conflict resolution techniques has to do with problem solving. If you look at it in a certain way, the entire conflict resolution process is basically a problem-solving method. You have two opposing sides that are in conflict with each other, how do you bring them together? In other words, don’t focus on attacking each other, but rather focus on attacking the problem.
Of course, when having discussions and heated debates among team members, this technique can be useful for preventing conflicts from arising. But viewing conflicts as a problem that can be solved rather than as a conflict with no recourse also takes the air out of the actual conflict itself.
Focusing on the problem and not on the drama or personalities involved is therefore a useful technique for teams when facing any sort of challenge. When teams know what they need to focus on, and what problem is the most important, they won’t waste time with issues that don’t actually matter as much in the long-run.
5. Look ahead (forward thinking)
Related to problem solving is the conflict resolution technique of looking ahead. Being forward-thinking is crucial for teams to master, since it means that less time will be wasted in short-term drama, fights, politics, or even ideas that seem good but that aren’t as conducive to the team’s future as a whole.
In conflict resolution, the goal is to think in the future, and to imagine a situation in which the conflict can be resolved. The conflict is less important than the solution itself, and so the process is oriented towards using forward-thinking skills rather than getting stuck in the quagmire of the present.
6. Facilitation: Ask the right questions
Another one of the more practical conflict resolution techniques for your team is the technique of facilitation. Facilitation is all about guiding people to the right space where a decision can be made or a new solution can be found. And ultimately this requires asking the right questions.
In conflict resolution this means leading both parties to a resolution by asking good questions that keep them focused on finding solutions rather than getting stuck in grievances. But facilitation has a lot of applications on teams, especially during meetings and brainstorming sessions. Learning how to ask the right questions that will keep the team focused on what matters and moving forward is therefore a very valuable skill.
7. Know when to pick your battles
This conflict resolution technique has to do with self-awareness and being more conscious about what is really important. On an individual level, working on a team requires giving up some amount of your own ego and compromising for the good of the team. Obviously there will be some things that make you upset, but having members who know when to fight for what really matters to them versus simply fighting over a bruised ego is critical for teams to function properly.
On a team level though, this conflict resolution technique also carries a lot of importance. Teams have to know what matters to them as a team as well, and to really fight only when it matters. Most teams don’t have endless resources, and have real goals that they want to accomplish. So knowing which challenges to take up and which ones aren’t worth it or aren’t beneficial is an important skill for teams to learn.
8. Embrace creative thinking–everything is negotiable
One of the main lessons of conflict resolution is that every conflict can be negotiated–as long as you think about it the right way. When you change your perspective by calming down, listening to other people and engaging in a process of mutual understanding, then new solutions will begin to appear. What this ultimately leads to is a process of creative thinking.
The conflict resolution technique of embracing creative thinking is present in both the way that you think about problems in general, as well as the specific process of formulating new ideas. When you start thinking that every conflict is negotiable (or that every problem has a solution somewhere), you can free your mind to start thinking more creatively and look for new pathways forward.
On the process side, conflict resolution emphasizes brainstorming solutions together based on a basis of understanding. You can’t just do this with one person, or without listening to other perspectives–because you wind up repeating the same mistakes. Rather, the path to a creative solution requires putting your heads together, listening to new perspectives, understanding the whole problem, and coming up with multiple solutions (similar to the design thinking process, by the way).
9. Negotiation: Learn how to balance competing interests
Next on our list of conflict resolution techniques is one that most people probably think of when they think of conflict resolution: negotiation. Conflict resolution is in fact used in a lot of negotiations, including between businesses and even countries.
What’s crucial here is the importance of balancing multiple interests. Teams are composed of different individuals, and they will sometimes get into conflict. But instead of holding some interests over others, or some team members’ ideas over other team members’ ideas, the goal is to try to work towards a solution that allows for both.
But again, doing this requires narrowing in on what actually matters, both to the interests of the team, as well as to the individuals involved.
10. Accountability matters
Last on our list of conflict resolution techniques is holding teams and team member accountability. Holding team members accountable doesn’t always mean punishing. Rather, it means that team members are trusted based on their words and actions, with the understanding that if they break their word or pursue actions that are damaging, that trust will be broken. So instead of punishments, the focus could be on consequences, which is more equitable and applies to a larger amount of cases.
In conflict resolution, the only thing that holds both sides together at the end is accountability and trust. In order to agree to resolve the conflict in the first place, the two parties involved need to trust that they will be held accountable. So ensuring accountability on teams, which is related to responsibility and trust, is paramount, and a great technique to learn.
So that was our list of conflict resolution techniques that teams should learn and use often. All of these techniques can be learned through team building as well, such as through the activities and programs at Invite Japan. Our services build communication, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, as well as strengthen empathy and trust on teams.
Whether your team has serious conflicts or not, team building is a great way to practice these techniques and stave off future disruptive conflicts from occurring.