7 Musts When Engaging in Healthy Conflict

Guest post from Mike Robbins:

The ability for you and your team to
effectively engage in conflict may not be all that easy or fun, but it is
fundamental to your performance, both individually and collectively.
As important as engaging in conflict is
to the culture and performance of your team, there are both healthy and
unhealthy ways of doing it.

Here are seven things to remember when
dealing with a conflict or disagreement—one-on-one, within a group, or within
the entire team:

1. Take responsibility. This is not about pointing fingers or
figuring out who’s at fault; it’s about owning up to the situation and
recognizing that we’re a part of the issue. It’s also about owning our emotions
and reactions in an authentic, healthy way.

2. Address the conflict directly. Conflicts are always handled most
successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and
vulnerable when you disagree with someone, or when you have an issue to
address, but make sure to do so as soon as possible. Don’t let it fester.

3. Seek first to understand. As challenging as it can be, the best
approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding and
empathy as possible— even when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can
understand where the other person or people are coming from, even if we don’t
agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4. Use “I” statements. If someone does or says something and we
have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If we judge someone, make a
generalization about them, or accuse them of something, not only is it
factually untrue (it’s just our opinion), it most likely will trigger a
defensive response (because we’re usually being self-righteous in that
scenario). We must own our opinions as ours, not speak them like they’re the truth.
Using “I” statements allows us to speak from a place of authenticity and
ownership, ideally without blame or judgment. There’s a big difference when we
say “I’m feeling frustrated” versus “You are frustrating.”

5. Go for a win-win. The only real way to have a conflict
resolved authentically is when it’s a true win-win for everyone involved. This
doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does,
however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and
if possible—we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in

6. Acknowledge others. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation,
a situation that involves a few people, or a discussion that includes the whole
team, acknowledgment is essential to resolving conflict effectively. Thank the
other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage.
Thank them for their courage and their truth. Acknowledgment isn’t about
agreement; it’s about honoring and appreciating the willingness to have
a tough conversation, which is brave all the way around.

7. Get support and have compassion. Conflicts often bring up fear and cut to
the core of our most vulnerable insecurities. Therefore, it’s critical to reach
out for authentic support (not necessarily agreement on the topic) from those
who can help us work through the issue and resolve it in a healthy and
responsible way. It’s also important to have compassion with ourselves and
others as we attempt to engage in these conversations. Usually they aren’t fun
or easy, but they are necessary for us personally, for our relationships, and
for the success of the team.

is the
author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team
Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging
(April 14, 2020).  He’s a thought leader and sought-after
speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay,
Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.