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Addressing Conflict to Build Team Unity

April 24, 2023

By: Wendy Sheaffer

One doesn’t often think of conflict and unity in the same breath. Workplace conflict is something most of us dread, especially when our days are stressful enough. But conflict, workplace and otherwise, is inevitable when interacting with other human beings. The good news is that conflict doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be the catalyst for taking team dynamics to the next level. Of course, it should be addressed correctly to see positive results.

Team synergy and positive dynamics are the goals for every office and work team, but debates, differences of opinion, misunderstandings, and communication breakdowns create tension at work and erode cohesiveness. Over time, this can have a negative impact on productivity as well as the engagement of team members. Leaders who address conflict directly, rather than sweep it under the rug, are taking an important and significant step toward creating an environment where employees thrive and produce.

4 Sources of Workplace Conflict

Let’s start by talking about the four sources of conflict at work:

1. Interpersonal Conflict

Interpersonal conflict results from basic differences in opinions, values, or even personal work styles. Examples are disagreements over project direction, personality clashes, and misunderstandings resulting from different communication styles. One person is factual and direct while another is more effusive and diplomatic. One person prefers email while another prefers video chat with the camera on. Or what about that coworker who sends an email and calls you three seconds later to see if you got AND read it?

With interpersonal conflict, it’s best to encourage open communication and active listening. Focus on the issue, not the person. And finally, find a mutually acceptable solution. Like, wait thirty minutes before calling about that email.

2. Intrapersonal Conflict

Intrapersonal conflict happens when an individual has conflict within themselves stemming from competing priorities or goals. This can happen when people are struggling with time management and are feeling overwhelmed or when they are experiencing self-doubt. For example, managing two important priorities with unclear milestones or evaluating the best use of emojis in office communications.

For intrapersonal conflict, it’s best to encourage self-reflection and self-care as well as meet with the individual often to provide feedback and support (open communication). Help them set achievement goals. An Omnia behavioral assessment and self-awareness report is an objective way for an employee to evaluate their traits and tendencies in order to put their actions and thoughts into better perspective for professional and personal growth.

3. Organizational Conflict

Organizational conflict happens between different departments or teams of people who have competing or just different goals or priorities. For example, there could be disagreements over budget and resource allocation or project priorities.

Here we need to encourage collaboration, focus on common goals and the big picture, practice active listening (this is a staple for resolving conflict), encourage open communication (yep, that again), and make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

4. Cultural Conflict

Cultural conflict stems from differences in values, beliefs, and behaviors. For example, some cultures speak more directly and assertively while others prefer the use of indirect language. Some cultures have different views on appropriate dress. Some cultures have different ways of making decisions (group consensus versus hierarchical for example). Also, things like the observance of different holidays can create cultural conflict.

The best way to address cultural conflict is to foster an inclusive workplace culture, practice cultural sensitivity, provide cultural awareness/cultural diversity training, and — the one you’ve seen in all four types of conflict (it’s that important and powerful) — encourage open communication.

Tips for Active Listening

Since listening, really listening, is critical for resolving conflict, here are a few tips:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Paraphrase what they said.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s perspective.
  • Give your full attention.

The Five Conflict Resolution Styles

You’ll be able to address conflict best if you know which style to use for any given situation. You don’t want to add fuel to the fire by using the wrong method.

1. Collaborating

Collaborating is working together to find a mutually acceptable solution. It is most effective when the issue is complex and both parties have significant concerns that are important to them. Collaborating requires a high degree of cooperation. It can be time-consuming and both parties need to trust one another, but it often leads to strong long-term solutions that benefit both sides. For example, you have two departments disagreeing about a new CRM system to implement.

This style may not work well with extreme time pressure or when one party is more powerful than the other.

Tips to facilitate: Encourage active listening, create a safe and inclusive environment, and foster creativity and innovation.

2. Competing

Competing is forcing a solution through power and authority. This is effective in a crisis or emergency when quick action is needed or when the stakes are high and the consequences of not taking fast, decisive action are significant. Competing requires taking a firm, authoritative stance to defend one’s own or the company’s interests and objectives without compromise or collaboration. Here’s an example of an appropriate use of competing: Your network has been hacked and sensitive information has been compromised. But when competing is used in an inappropriate way, it can damage relationships and increase tension. This is because this style is often seen as having a clear winner and loser.

Tips to facilitate: Clearly communicate the reasons for the decision, be firm but not aggressive, and use this style sparingly.

3. Compromising

Compromising is finding a middle ground through negotiation. It is most effective when there are two parties who have equal power and both have important interests and goals. An example of this is when one person wants to focus on perfecting a project’s design while the other wants to prioritize finishing the project on time.

Tips to facilitate: Encourage open dialogue (yes, communication), brainstorm possible solutions together, and negotiate with an open mind.

Something extra: The Omnia Assessment highlights an individual’s personal preferences, e.g., taking risks vs. avoiding risks, being social vs. reserved, and looking at the big picture vs. the details. This provides great insight into an individual’s negotiation style. On the Omnia Assessment, a high degree of assertiveness and resilience are key drivers for individuals who negotiate regularly as part of their job.

4. Accommodating

Accommodating is giving in to the other party’s demands. This is effective when the issue is minor or when maintaining the relationship with the other party is more important than the outcome. For example, Sally, a salesperson, requests a brochure by the end of the day for a tradeshow tomorrow. The person responsible for creating those, Harry, can’t get it done without staying late. He’s not keen to do it, but understanding how important the tradeshow is, he gives in to Sally’s demands, stays late, and finishes the brochure (but also makes her promise to respect his time in the future and stick to the required 3-day lead time).

Tips to facilitate: Identify the underlying interests and find areas of agreement. Use this style selectively.

5. Avoiding

Avoiding is ignoring or postponing the resolution. This is most effective when the issue is minor and nothing will be impacted. For example, team members disagree about whether to brew dark or medium roast coffee first thing in the morning.

Tips to facilitate: Stay neutral, monitor the situation, and — you guessed it — keep communication open.


So, there you have it, the four types of conflict and five ways to effectively resolve any type. But wait, there’s more! If you know the personality type of each member of your team, you can anticipate how they are likely to react. For example, who will hold their frustrations in and who will aggressively fight for their way? This gives you the insight you need to be sure all sides are heard.

Understanding personality styles is every leader’s secret weapon for improving overall communication and collaboration, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings, and increasing team cohesion and trust. United we stand!

Wendy Sheaffer

Wendy is the former Chief Product Officer of The Omnia Group. She is a subject matter expert in behavioral assessments and in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. For more information, email or call 800.525.7117.

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