Reducing Interpersonal Conflict

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Why Interpersonal Conflict is not just about “Strong Personalities”

I was recently called in to provide support for a team of workers who were experiencing a lot of interpersonal conflict. On the surface it seemed that the conflict was just another classic case of “too many strong personalities.” Since I am never satisfied with what is on the surface, I spent time looking deeper. I invoked the leadership qualities of being an open-minded, active listener. The conflict I discovered bubbling beneath the surface was very powerful. The kind of pressure that cause geysers like Old Faithful to erupt.

I learned that the conflict was not really about “strong personalities.” It was more about the lack of having a clear and common understanding of what their respective roles were within the workplace. As I listened to each employee share their perspective it became apparent that everyone had good intentions to be professional and just do their work. However, nobody seemed to know what their work actually entailed! Interestingly enough, they certainly had ideas of what it did not entail. Of course they all had ideas about what other people on their team should be doing…or not be doing too. A true and classic mess.

In order to address the interpersonal conflict it was imperative to start by examining the mission and vision that the group was in charge of implementing. This became the focal point that I asked everyone to turn to. Once I had everyone facing in the same direction, my next step was to establish communication guidelines. With everyone on edge, it was extremely important to neutralize the commentary (especially found in emails) and specifically challenge people to spend the next couple of weeks speaking only to the mission of the organization and keeping all conversations professional. This served the primary purpose of setting the expectation that negativity and gossip (perceived or real) no longer had a place.

Thankfully, the team was cooperative with this approach and appeared willing and eager to rise to the challenge. The next step I took was to spend individual time gathering their feedback about what was working well and where they saw room for improvement in process. When gathering feedback I made sure to make eye contact, nod, and say things like “go on,” and “tell me more about that.” This created space for many worthwhile and productive ideas to come forth. At the conclusion of each conversation, I thanked the worker for their time and reiterated at least one idea I heard them say that jived with the mission. This helped each person feel validated and connected to the mission.

I also had the luxury of pulling in people from another department to temporarily “buddy up” with each of the workers from the struggling group. I chose those who could model positive behavior and communication skills. Sometimes people just need a break from each other. The team with the interpersonal conflict was very comfortable being chaotic with each other. However, when new people were introduced for that short period of time, it shifted the dynamics just enough to break through the discord. It disrupted the negative communication patterns that had been going on within the group.

At the end of my time with the group, not all of the process was ironed out in terms of who was responsible for what. However, each team member knows that this is in the works and have agreed to continue moving forward with a focus on the mission and a more gracious attitude towards each other.

The team members of Avant Synergy have a passion for ensuring that people are connected to their company’s mission. Humans are…well, human, and can temporarily lose sight of what that mission is. Unexpected growth, new demands, changes in personnel, all can affect the health and vibrancy of your business. Our goal is to make you successful. The Avant Synergy team is available and skilled to help meet your needs so you can focus on what really matters- getting your team to the next level.

-Angela, Operations Manager

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