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May 9, 2019

How to Cope With Team Disagreements – Your Top Tips

Jonathan Hancock

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Depend on Disagreements

Your people will get into disagreements – it would be weird if they didn't! They all have their own ways of doing things, plus a unique mix of experiences and skills. With so many different values, goals, and personalities, there's no way they'll always see eye-to-eye.

If you're lucky, they'll "agree to disagree." But from time to time, they're bound to make their feelings known – maybe very loudly!

And, if you're a manager, coping with disagreements can take up a significant slice of your time. Research shows that people in management positions spend 20-40 percent of their working week coping with conflict, in one form or another.

If you deal with disagreements well, they can actually be good for business. As Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan say in their book, "Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader," differences of opinion give you a great chance to identify problems, try out different approaches, and put effective solutions in place.

Some organizations take this a step further and actively promote disruptiveness. For example, in Twitter's early days, the company employed several anarchists. According to a Business Insider report, they stood up in sit-down meetings, and sat down in stand-up ones! They likely annoyed their co-workers, but they were part of a rebellious spirit that propelled the business toward its current success.

For most of us, however, disagreements are a difficult aspect of working life. And if managers handle them badly – or worse, don't deal with them at all – they can cause significant damage.

The Damages of Disagreement

The financial costs of unresolved conflict are high. One study into workplace conflict put the price at $359 billion annually – and that only covered the time spent dealing with it (on average, 2.8 hours a week for every employee in the U.S.). There are many other ways in which organizations can suffer.

Conflicts can hamper productivity and hold back progress. Unresolved issues can lead to stress, with knock-on effects on well-being, punctuality, and attendance at work.

A disagreement between two team members can quickly spread to others. Even if more people don't "weigh in" directly, most will pick up on the negative vibes, and the mood of the whole team can drop.

And if it gets so bad that people start quitting, the costs of recruitment and onboarding can skyrocket. Your reputation is also at serious risk if you're known for not handling conflict well.

Coping With Conflict

We wanted to hear your top tips for dealing with the disagreements that arise in your team.

On Facebook, Thorsten König emphasized the way that conflict can contribute to success – if it's managed well. He said, "Disagreements are, for me, actually the best chance for team improvement."

Thorsten also stressed the importance of an open approach. He recommended letting everyone know "that the issue has been solved and that the shared way forward is leading the team to better performance."

Ali Salari, replying via LinkedIn from Albany, California, agreed. He said, "Understand the situation, hearing both sides. Identify the differences, recognize common ground and work towards possible solutions."

Coming Together

Gourav Bais stressed the need to understand people's different points of view, while Iosif Gilca focused on finding the "real" reasons for their conflict. He said, "When a disagreement lasts longer than two minutes or so, most likely it is not the only disagreement that wasn't positively settled. Best practice in my case is: all parties sit down, discuss and solve this agreement first. Then solve all the others."

On LinkedIn, IT professional Maria Carrillo-Walther, from Calgary, Canada, pointed to good communication as the way to find "shared ground." She explained, "We all start a calm conversation until we reach a point where we can find a solution that works for everybody."

Michelle Marie's message was to "maintain professionalism." She advised, "Listen to your co-workers' ideas and express your own. Find common ground on what makes the most sense for the company."

And if someone else has a better idea for achieving your aims? According to Michelle, "you accept it and agree to move forward."

Yulin Wang, replied on Twitter from the U.K. and emphasized the power of compromise – even though that's often easier said than done! When people are in conflict about the way forward, Yulin's advice was to show them that they "share the same goal."

Personal Problems

Prakash, in Bengaluru, India, highlighted the dangers of personality clashes. He described conflicts caused by "internal politics," "ego," and "domination" by the people with the loudest voices. He said, "By careful observation, one can find an appropriate solution to bring into a single page."

And another of our Twitter followers, Lauren Dacruz, in Mauritius, felt that different personalities need to be taken into account when dealing with disagreements. "Find out the personality types," she said. That way, "the one who is leading the group knows the dynamics and how to handle each one."

Finally for now, Iosif Gilca, on Facebook, described his favorite way to help people move on, once their personal conflicts have been settled. "Shake hands," he suggested, "and go for a cup of coffee together."

Thank you to everyone who responded to our #MindToolsTips question. And whether you agree or disagree with the comments so far, there's still time to have your say, below!

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4 comments on “How to Cope With Team Disagreements – Your Top Tips”

  1. Ego, ego, ego... leave them at home when coming to work. Have conversations that clear assumptions about each other and explore how each team member compliments each other. Agree on ways to celebrate each other’s success and learn from mistakes. Recognize that sharing the vision of your unit/department/organization is one of the utmost importance. Remember a team is as strong as it’s weakest team member.

    1. Thanks Eloise for sharing those thoughts. We can all benefit from being reminded of the importance to be clear with each other, celebrate our successes and that working together a team can surpass the capacities of the individual!

      Mind Tools Team

  2. Ego, by itself, denotes a person's self-esteem and unfortunately, perhaps unfairly, is taken to mean something negative, especially if the perception is that the person being labeled has an exaggerated sense of self-worth. I don't subscribe to leaving "ego at the door" as this goes against having high self-esteem. What I would encourage is to avoid being egocentric, which by it's very meaning one focuses on oneself. Acknowledging others' successes and goals, and recognizing that everyone is a valuable team member can go a long way.

    1. Thanks Andrei for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you that there is a difference between having a solid sense of self-worth and an exaggerated one. One has a quiet confidence while the other actually lacks confidence and has the need to draw attention to themselves and all their things they are doing. When there are disagreements, a balance needs to be had.

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