So you start a blog with great students, you bring them together in a room and everybody gets along, and you think, “Hey, this is the best group I’ve ever worked with! I hope it goes on like this all year!” And sometimes it does.
But other times, there comes a point at which two (or more) team members stop seeing eye to eye.
I confess, I’m not a big fan of conflict. I love it when a team gets along and works together and does great things, and conflict often destroys the good will and motivation.
On the other hand, I know people who court conflict. They see the creative value in it. It tackles differences head-on, and can lead to a new understanding on the other side.
So I guess I’m a little conflicted about conflict. But one truth I can’t avoid, even if I wanted to, is that conflict is inevitable. It doesn’t happen on every team every time, but it does happen.
It hasn’t happened much on our student social media teams over the last five years, but it’s come up once or twice. Conflict between bloggers and yes, even conflict between team members and staff.
Sometimes, it’s best to just watch it let it work itself out. Team members will disagree – a lot – and that’s not a bad thing (see the point above about courting conflict), and jumping in too early can actually stifle healthy debate and creativity.
So when is conflict unhealthy? I think it becomes destructive when respect is lost. When you see defensiveness popping up, or if the discussion turns to personal, that’s a pretty clear sign. Other times, you might just sense something (for example, I find that when people say there is a “communication problem”, that’s often a sign that communication is really only the tip of the iceberg).
What to do? I’m no expert, but a few things have worked for us:
- Prevention. Creating a respectful culture, and encouraging people to talk to you if there is any kind of problem can help the team members feel that they’re in a safe space. One of the first things I say to bloggers is, “Don’t suffer in silence.” I mean this mostly about stress and workload, but I also mean that they should not stew on a conflict – they should bring it up with a staff member. We’ve also created the position of “Team Captain”, who, among other responsibilities, will act as a go-to person if anyone feels uncomfortable speaking to a staff member.
- Diversion. I don’t mean ignoring the problem. What I mean is that if you find a meeting degenerating, suggest to the people involved that the discussion be taken up at the end of the meeting. Sometimes, you just have to get through the business of the meeting!
- Discussion. If things escalate, bring the people involved together and find out what it is each of them really needs. Sometimes it might be clear that one person has done something insensitive to another. Having each person express their point of view without attacking or being defensive can help build empathy and understanding.
- Decision. Sometimes, there a decision just needs to be made to move on. Someone may win, and someone may lose. But if you’ve created a culture of respect, the team members should respect your conclusion.
I know these points aren’t comprehensive. This is just what’s worked for me. What’s your experience? Have you found effective ways to manage conflict?
See also: How to run a student blog: yes, we edit our bloggers
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net