Will all groups have conflict at some point? Is it useful to ignore it? Is conflict worse if you talk about it?

Have you ever wanted to ignore disagreements, disputes or challenging behaviour and hope it will go away?

In a senior leadership team workshop designed to address open dispute and historical tension between the leaders, a participant asked the question:

But aren’t you making the situation worse by doing this workshop to bring out all the issues?

It was clear she felt that by bringing the issues and challenges to the surface we, as the facilitators, were making the situation worse.

Is this true?

I hadn’t realised the need to make what we were doing in the workshop and why it works explicit to that group, so here is the basis for our approach to addressing situations where there needs to be improvement in how the group or team can repair and rebuild after conflict or dispute.

We work from the basis that conflict is inevitable in all human groups.  If dealt with early and constructively, resolution of incidents or misunderstandings will strengthen relationships and build trust.  If ignored, conflict will not go away or dissipate, however much we may want it to, and it will inevitably worsen.

Dealing with interpersonal challenges effectively involves people being respected and listened to.  If people are:

  • ignored
  • not asked for their opinion on major issues
  • feel sidelined or spoken to in a way that diminishes, dismisses or upsets them and this is not addressed,

it may become the basis of escalating tension, fractured relationships and unresolved conflict.  It is also important that the issue and the conflict around the issue is resolved by the people involved – even when a facilitator or mediator is involved.

Within organisations (and family and friend groups) there are inevitable frustrations and challenges.  The foundations to support people to deal with frustration and challenge is:

1.     Listening to the concerns expressed In practice this sounds like:  SILENCE.

Use attentive body language and affirming sounds to show you are listening – hmm, uhuh etc.

Don’t interrupt.

2.     Acknowledging that you have heard the other person’s point of view. In practice this sounds like:

That is tough.

You sound very distressed by what has happened.

Don’t diminish their feelings.

3.     Supporting acceptance of the situation. In practice this sounds like:

What would help you now?

How are you feeling about it at this point?

Don’t give false insurance by saying You’ll be OK or become defensive.

4.     Showing leadership to encourage progress towards the desired change.


In practice this sounds like:

What can you do to support yourself?

What would help you to be able to take on….

Don’t start telling people what to do or micromanaging (even if you are tempted)


The actions above are the leader’s responsibility and require deftness and subtlety in communication, the ability to read and respond to emotions – both expressed and those that you might observe but are unexpressed – and judging how best to respond in that situation.  The actions can be taken with individuals, small groups or teams.

These are learned skills.  Some people will find this work easier than others.  It can be frustrating having to listen to emotions you don’t agree with and to defend a decision of the organisation that you also don’t agree with.

We know that only by facing the issues and expressing thoughts and feelings will healthy groups and teams form, and those that have faced challenges be returned to harmony and productivity.

Your experience?

  • What has been your experience of working in teams or groups that have had conflicts and disputes?
  • Do you think the issues have to be addressed face on?
  • What have been some of the most valuable actions others have done for you when you have faced conflict, distress or disputes?

Talk to us if you need help with repairing or rebuilding groups or teams.

Call Robyn 0408 703 344 or Tulsi 0423 600 590 to find out how we support leaders, teams and employees to build positive and productive teams and a safe workplace.

Photo by Brahm Meyer on Unsplash

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