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Transforming Conflict in High Functioning Teams: Starting with the Self

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

The problem stems not so much from the fact that conflict exists, but from how we deal with it.

Businesses lose resources, time, and momentum due to unresolved conflict and work cultures that attempt to suppress critique and feedback. Teams that implement positive strategies to handle conflict report much lower turnover, better productivity and increased overall success and satisfaction. Addressing conflict in open and transparent ways invites dialogue and dramatically improves the way teams work together. However, before organizations can take on transforming conflict into productive communication, team members need to understand what conflict is and how we as individuals approach conflict in different situations.

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What is Conflict?

In order to address conflict we must first define it. Defining conflict through violence is limiting in scope and ignores the most common forms of conflict found in the workplace. Conflict is any situation in which there is a lack of alignment in our beliefs, needs, or interests. It is normal, natural, and frequent. Conflicts occur internally (such as moral conundrums), interpersonally (between one or more individuals), or systemically (involving policies or practices).

Office cultures that avoid or suppress conflict run the risk of creating environments in which people internalize issues and diverse opinions, ideas, and innovations are discouraged. They miss out on essential dialogue around how to make improvements.

If conflict is so great, why is it often portrayed so negatively? The problem stems not so much from the fact that conflict exists, but from how we deal with it. People approach and express conflict differently, with varying results. By understanding how we as individuals respond in conflict, we can begin to take more intentional and self-aware steps to transform the situation.

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Modes of Conflict


We each hold different beliefs and attitudes about conflict and how we can and should approach situations of disagreement. One model for this is Thomas-Kilmann's which describes 5 modes, or approaches to conflict.