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Step 1: Separate those in conflict

An unaddressed conflict can quickly escalate and cause further damage.
That is why I like to meet the people involved in the conflict in an individual coaching session first and not in a group. Depending on the topic, the number of people directly involved and the intensity of the conflict, a process to resolve conflicts in a team takes between one day and several months. I communicate this procedure transparently so that no one feels left out, disadvantaged or surprised.
In most cases, two people are involved in a conflict. Rarely are there more than four people or the entire (project) team directly involved in the conflict.

Step 2: Conflict management with CORE questions

Core contains a sequence of questions aimed at gaining an understanding of the specific coaching issue – e.g. a concrete conflict in the team. The questioning is done with all conflict parties individually and separately. Core stands for:

Conflict – Outcome – Resources – Effect

1. Conflict

As a coach, I let the respective person describe the team conflict at their pace and from their perception. Often this phase is already used to “let off steam”. It also gives me a first indicator of how “heated ” the conflict between the employees is. Here it is worthwhile to work with the scaling question for a before and after comparison, i.e. to ask for an assessment, e.g. between -10 (maximum possible stress), 0 (neutral) and +10 (great feeling). In addition, I always ask whether the conflict also contributes to the achievement of the goal or merely slows it down.

2. Outcome

The parties to the conflict now each describe their target vision for the initial problem. It is to be expected that either the target images differ or the way to the target:

Conflict in the team regarding what is to be achieved
Conflict in the team regarding how something is to be achieved.

It can also happen that a common understanding of goal and path already exists, but the conflict parties are not aware of this.

3. Resources

The conflict parties describe what they personally need in terms of (emotional) resources in order to achieve the goal. At this point it is important for the coach not to get involved in talking too much about what the other person needs. Instead, it is important to make sure that the interlocutor remains in the “I-form”, e.g. “I would benefit from more composure and more distance with regard to the conflict/the collaboration/the project”.

4. Effect

In the last section of the question, it is important to ask what will be possible once the conflict has been resolved within the team. If there was an indication in question 1 that the conflict contributes positively to the achievement of the goal, it is quite possible that this will be specified again.

If you want to dive deeper into this powerful questioning technique, take a look at my blog post on the CORE framework.

Step 3: Conflict reality check

The same conflict is not associated with the same experience for each and every one of us. Some people actively seek conflict, others avoid it at all costs. Some characters in the team frequently clash with each other, others hardly ever do. Some have learned to resolve conflicts as quickly as possible, others have learned to keep them quiet for as long as possible. In this step I am interested in understanding what the conflict brings to the respective conflict party in terms of negative and positive feelings.

Step 4: Stress reduction in conflicts

I always include this step when a conflict is very stressful for at least one of the people involved from the team. In the context of the scaling question within the core questions in step 2, I usually already have the decisive information. Depending on how much experience my counterpart has with stress regulation and how charged the situation in the team is, this step takes more or less time.

Step 5: Adopt the other person's perspective 

I always take this step as soon as I think that my counterpart’s own sensitivities, feelings and points of view with regard to the conflict are stable. Because then it’s a matter of looking at what would be good for the conflict partner in order to be able to resolve the conflict. This focus is a big step forward. If my counterpart blocks at this point and makes negative comments, e.g. about the intentions of the conflict partner, the work in the previous steps was unfortunately not thorough enough. In this case, a step back is necessary. If schedules are tight, this may mean making another appointment.

If this step succeeds in the process, I ask again for the perception of the conflict via a scaling question. In the best case, the perception has turned from negative to positive.

Step 6: From conflict focus to future outlook

Now it is time to take a deeper look at how things will work when the conflict in the team is resolved.

– How can it be seen from the outside that the conflict has been resolved?
– How will the team work together in the future?
– Which things/goals will be realized first and how can this be recognized?
– How will (initial) successes be recognized and celebrated?

Step 7: Bringing the people in conflict together

Only at the point where most of the work is already done, the conflict parties come together.
For me, solving conflicts in a team means involving the team only in the last step. At this point, the most I can do is to provide a few guiding questions or key points. Everything else is done by the main protagonists of the conflict themselves. In more than 80% of the cases, based on my experience, this succeeds all by itself. Because with the right groundwork, solving conflicts in a team can be very easy.

You are having problems with conflicts in your team, which causes more harm than good? Then let’s talk about it!

ps: From my experience, in some conflicts the team members who are at odds with each other do not fully come together. In such cases, the goal is to make sure that the conflict does not stand in the way of the actual goal of the collaboration (anymore). That is a clear improvement over a conflict that is simmering away or unresolved. I have not yet experienced the situation in which no progress is made at all in an existing conflict.

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