Conflict is inevitable in your organization. Especially if you have strong-willed members, you’ll find that they have their own motivations and directions they want to take the team. Conflict has the potential to be positive and should be seen as an opportunity. The worst feeling your members can have towards your organization is apathy. If there’s conflict, it indicates that people are invested enough in your organization to care.
Dealing with conflict requires a significant degree of emotional intelligence, but also requires integration of many other factors. These can include the history of the individuals with the team, with the other people involved, and with you. The more members involved in the conflict, the more complicated these relations become, and the more tact you must use in order to achieve your desired outcome.
The best way to understand how to proceed with a situation of conflict is to understand the context of the argument. You’ll be dealing with two primary factors: the facts of the situation and the relationships between the members. If possible, you should rely on the facts of the arguments and the impact of those facts. How will the resolution of the conflict, one way or the other, impact the members of your organization? You should pursue the avenue that in the end most benefits the group. Keep conflict away from personal attacks as much as possible. Personal attacks create permanent friction that can make your team operations significantly more difficult in the future.
NOTE: Consider who cares more about the issue at hand, and why. Also, consider how likely compromises will affect the team. At the end of the day, the health of the team is the main question at hand. Make the decision you believe is fair, but always consider how the individuals will perceive the resolution, and how they will act towards the team as a result. All other things equal, resolve issues in favor of higher performing members or members who care more about the issue at hand.
As for the second factor, here are some of the relationships you should consider before engaging with the parties:
Parties are acquaintances and do not interact often
Parties are friends and have worked together before in some capacity
Parties dislike each other based on past negative experience and may bring up historical events to justify actions in the present
Parties are or have been in a romantic relationship and will likely bring the dynamics of the relationship into the argument
One party obviously needs the other party for something important in their life and is trying to tactfully bring up a concern without offending the other party
One party has an important stake in something happening and the other party doesn’t particularly care but is a vital gatekeeper
Once you’ve thought about the relationships between the parties and clarified the conflict, work towards an amiable solution. Consider how various compromise scenarios will affect the individuals involved as well as how they will affect the team. I’ve created a flow chart below that should approximate the approach you take towards reaching a solution. In each case, the best approach is to cool any hot heads. Find something the parties can agree on, then work rationally towards a desired result.
Will the result benefit or harm the team in a significant way?
If yes…your solution should focus on maximizing the benefit or mitigating the risk.
If no…proceed to 2.
Does one party care more about the result than the other?
If yes…your solution should lean towards the party that cares more.
If no…proceed to 3.
What is the relationships of the parties involved?
They’re acquantainces…try to find common grounds and work towards an even-handed solution. You may be able to promote a friendship if the issue is resolved tactifully.
They’re friends…leverage the friendship and work towards an amicable solution.
They dislike each other…maintain an appearance of impartiality as much as possible. Work towards and even-handed solution, and try to solifdify arguments around the good of the team.
They are or were in a romantic relationship…try to find other involved members and work with them instead. Or, defer, and inform the parties you don’t want to get involved with their relationship.
Questions to Consider
How does your relationships with the parties in conflict affect you approach?
Is it actually necessary for you to intervene in this conflict?
Is there another member who might be better suited to deal with the type of conflict that has arisen?