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Dealing with Discord

January 22nd, 2016



Wherever you have a team you have the potential for conflict. And the secret when conflict arises is to deal with it fast to stop any lasting damage being done. Here are a few thoughts to help to deal with discord. 

Work out the Root Cause
Only once the reason for the argument is established can a resolution be sought. More often than not the behaviour that caused the upset is not the original cause of the problem at all. When someone upsets us, before responding it’s well worth looking for the ‘One More Fact’ that motivates that person’s views or behaviours. I’m reminded of a woman regarded by many as a neurotic and overprotective mother who, it turns out, lost her own brother in a tragic accident as a teenager. Knowledge of this one fact helps to make sense of her behaviour.

Acknowledge Differences
The modern workplace contains people from different cultures, educational backgrounds and generations. Baby boomers can differ from Gen-Y in their approach to work, preferring to see work as a “place”, whereas new entrants to the workforce simply need to plug in electronically to be at work.

All too often differences are exaggerated and we don’t see the real person because of our assumptions based on their background. Not all Americans are loud, not all German’s precise and not all Brits reserved. It’s important to get to know the individual and their strengths; a great way to do this in a team is to use psychometrics and questionnaires to identify each team member’s true personality.  Once a team can see themselves as a group of talented but different people they immediately lay to rest the inaccurate preconceptions based on background.

Agree on what Matters
Very often disagreements arise over issues that don’t really matter to the organisation. Just because one person wears certain clothes or another likes to go for a cigarette break doesn’t necessarily impede the team’s performance.

I like the example of Best Buy, a US electronics retailer who set out on a radical experiment to transform its culture. Called ROWE, for “results-only work environment,” Best Buy will no longer equate physical presence with productivity. The goal is to judge performance on output instead of hours. There are no schedules, no mandatory meetings, work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. It’s OK to take conference calls while you fish, collaborate from your garden, or log on after dinner having spent the afternoon with your children. ROWE is an indication of how some teams have managed to recalibrate their activity so that what matters, is what really makes a difference to their business.

Make Memories
The workplace has become increasingly transactional, a perpetual cycle of meetings, telephone calls and hours spent behind screens. From time to time teams must break free of their routine and do something different together, away from the office. Someone once said “You only really get to know someone when you waste time with them.”

Sometimes our closest colleagues are the people who we’ve travelled with and got to know whilst waiting for a delayed flight. Where conflict exists it can often be because the two parties have never had the opportunity to get to know the person beyond the job role. I’m not advocating that two people in conflict should be forced together, but time and time again we’ve seen long-held grudges melt away when a team take part in a shared experience together.

Talk about it!
Possibly the most awkward and feared aspect of conflict is the point at which the two parties must face each other and their differences. Mediation by an independent and respected third party is undoubtedly an excellent way to resolve severe differences, better still don’t let differences escalate to this level.

So encourage a culture in the team in which feedback is welcomed and given regularly by all team members regardless of seniority.


Dan Collins (1)

Dan Collins is a team-builder, business mentor and founder of  Fresh Tracks. He has worked with some of the world’s most respected companies, along with some vibrant, fast growing smaller businesses. The motto ‘teams that play together, work together’ underpins his approach of combining fun with learning. He is co-author, with David Thompson, of Trust Unwrapped, a story of ethics, integrity and chocolate.

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