How to keep the cool when dealing with team conflict

How to keep the cool when dealing with team conflict
August 19, 2021 Linda Murray

Every team experiences conflict at some stage, especially when each member is committed to achieving the best outcome. The likelihood of conflict increases when a project is challenging, or the team is under pressure. It’s never easy to manage and right now, it’s even more challenging with a team working remotely. Welcome to the world of COVID!

In the past, I’ve shared with you some practical strategies for coping with conflict. However, given what I’m hearing from my clients, it’s time to re-examine the topic. This time, we need to make it personal.

I have worked with many teams facing this same dilemma and I know what works and what doesn’t. It all starts with your ability to keep ‘the cool’ – both yours and theirs.

Why you need a cool head to handle conflict.

You’ve probably seen it. A conversation starts off as a discussion of two points of view. Slowly voices get louder, the reason is lost, and it deteriorates into an outright argument. It is very difficult to bring people back to a logical discussion once the emotion is involved.

Conversation vs confrontation.

The difference between conversation and confrontation is the intensity or ‘heat’ in the communication. In the situation, we just referred to, what began as a conversation became a confrontation as the two parties grew hot-headed about their positions. Without a cool head, all vision and reason are lost. There’s no hope of having a rational conversation.

We need to take the heat out of the communication so it can be constructive, rather than destructive. Here’s how to do it, even when you’re at the heart of it all.

Strategies for keeping your cool.

If yours is the hothead, you lose your chance to guide your team through the conversation and towards the best outcome. You might also lose some of the respect you’ve gained from them, which has a long-lasting effect on the way you work together. It’s time you developed a “protective coating.”

Be Teflon.

A heated reaction from someone is often more about them than you, but they hit out as they struggle to manage their feelings. You bear the brunt, and it hurts. But to lead towards a positive and manageable outcome, you need to shrug off the outbursts directed at you. You need a Teflon coating so you can keep a clear head. Try not to take their reaction personally because often it’s not really about you at all.

Listen like LUNA.

LUNA stands for “Listen for Understanding Not Agreement”. As a conversation heats up, people tend to listen for mistakes, points they can argue against, holes in the argument, and ways to jump in and prove why their own position is clearly correct. It’s not listening to understand why the other person has come to a different conclusion.

LUNA means putting your own opinion to one side and paying attention to what the other person is saying. Let them talk. Don’t interrupt. Don’t look for flaws. Just listen. You’ll learn a lot about the reasoning they have followed. When you understand their perspective, you can find common ground. You have your starting point for conversation, not confrontation.

Acknowledge what they are saying.

Validation eases the heat in any communication. People are entitled to their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. By showing you understand their view, you acknowledge the value in their words. It takes the intensity out of their emotion, easing you both back towards a non-confrontational position. You don’t have to agree with it, but acknowledging their perspective shows your acceptance of their right to their views.

Use your empathy

Put the relationship first and focus on the person, not the topic.

When you listen with LUNA, you pick up on more than just words. You’ll start to understand the feelings behind them. You’ve acknowledged the person’s point of view, but to defuse the situation further, you need to show your empathy – your understanding of how and why they feel the way they do. If you genuinely don’t understand their feelings, ask. “Could you explain to me why you feel …?” It shows that you care, and that’s how relationships (and common ground) are forged.

Keep the heat out of your tough conversations by focusing on the other person, not yourself. It’s not easy and your Teflon coating might need to be thick, but it’s worth the effort. If you can stay cool and take the heat out of the conversation, you will find a way to work together in harmony.

These conversations are challenging, which is why I developed a workshop for Courageous Conversations in Teams. The workshop builds your skills and confidence in managing hard or emotional conversations, so they don’t become confrontational.

Linda has been instrumental in the direction of our company strategy and nurturing many of our team-members along the way.  Personally, I can’t thank Linda enough for guiding me through some of the most challenging (and then rewarding) professional chapters I have encountered, over the last five years.

I’ve witnessed Linda work her magic in close-knit, customized team-building sessions; guiding a room-full of senior business minds on how to conduct courageous conversations; and in front of a packed auditorium, sharing her gems of wisdom. Every time, the audience has walked away voicing their feelings of enrichment and appreciation.

Todd Keeler | CEO


If you’d like to know more about the Courageous Conversations workshop, give me a call or send me your details and let’s chat.

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