5 steps to resolve conflicts

Even the best-managed teams will have internal disputes


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Conflicts are unavoidable in most organizations, especially when co-workers differ sharply from one another in work styles and habits. Sharp differences can lead to resentments, which may escalate to counterproductive conflicts. But diversity of ideas and opinions can help strengthen a team when conflicts are quickly identified and worked out constructively.

The ability to manage work relationships in a way that reduces and resolves conflicts is a crucial skill of effective sales managers. Sales teams present some interesting challenges due in large part to how they are compensated. Bringing in new customers and growing account volume greatly determines a salesperson’s commission and bonus pay. Unfortunately, there can be situations in which internal disputes arise between salespeople over who should get the credit for a new prospect or customer. Disputes also arise between salespeople, their managers and other departments such as customer service, production and accounting.

Causes of conflict include differing belief systems, unclear roles and hidden agendas as well as misguided assumptions and expectations. Effective leaders understand these issues and take steps to deal with them. They set the tone for a mature and healthy conflict resolution atmosphere.

Business competition is like a race with the goal being to outpace your competitors. It forces you to get better at what you do and that’s very beneficial. Internal competition in the spirit of achieving company goals can be good for your sales department and engender a healthy team spirit. Contests with high value prizes and celebrations for highest volume sold within a given period can add strong incentives for salespeople who value competition and sportsmanship.

Internally competing over things like who gets credit for originating a sale, whose ideas get implemented or how leads and territories get assigned is unhealthy competition that can stress working relationships. Sales team leaders must establish broadly accepted team goals and assign clear individual roles that each member understands.

Even the best-managed teams will have internal disputes brew up that can throw the sales program off kilter. As a team leader, you have many options for responding to conflicts. Some of them include ignoring the issue, having the members butt heads and “work it out” or finding fault and taking sides. None of these focus on effective resolution and would probably worsen the situation.

Managers need to mediate in ways that lead to better cohesion and growth.

Going through the following five steps with your team will help you resolve most conflicts that rise to the level of being addressed:

1. Initial assessment

 • Look for signs of overt or hidden conflict.

 • Identify the roots – differing values, behaviors and goals among team members.

 • Identify the issues and the people affected.

 • Determine whether to proceed with a conflict resolution process. Is it really needed?

2. Initiate the conflict resolution process

 • Schedule a meeting with the affected people.

 • Present your initial Assessment from Step 1.

 • Ask for input focusing only on the relevant issues.

 • Identify, list and prioritize the issues.

3. Avoid solution-oriented arguing

 • Act as facilitator of the process.

 • Listen carefully to all voices.

 • Express concerns as “how-to’s,” such as asking, “How specifically will that work?”

4. Create a conflict resolution matrix

 • List issues that are extremely important to one or more members of the group.

 • List issues of moderate importance.

 • List issues of minor importance.

5. Identify the best-fit solution

 • Brainstorm possible solutions for each concern and determine the most feasible ones.

 • Test each possible solution against the matrix.

 • The “best fit” solution will emerge through compromise as the one that satisfies the most concerns of the most people in the group.

 • Identify the “how-to’s” for implementing the solution.

Bonus step: Celebrate a successful teamwork outcome! This can go a long way in building team unity. How you do this is up to you but it’s safe to say that pizza works for a lot of people!

When every member feels they had a seat at the table and participated in the resolution process, there will be fewer obstacles to achieving the team’s goal – something worth celebrating. The team can then move forward together in a way that supports each member, and the whole organization reaps the benefits of better engaged salespeople.

Kevin Hallenbeck, principal of Sandler Training- Manchester, can be reached at 603-232-1520 or through bestsalespeople.com.

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