Karin’s Leadership Articles

5 Ways to Surface Team Conflict and Live to Tell About It

by | Jan 22, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

We all know deep in our hearts that teams need conflict.

Conflict is “healthy.”

Leaders and teams have been talking about Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming, performing model since the mid 1960s.

Teams were storming long before that.

We get it intellectually.

We’ve even seen the value of addressing conflict play out practically.

But conflict is uncomfortable.

Sometimes addressing conflict does more harm than good.

Stirring the Pot

I am a pot stirrer.

If you have ever worked on a team of mine, you know I am constantly encouraging you to “air and discuss your concerns” with one another.

I will listen (for a minute) and then immediately send you back to the person with whom you need to engage.

People love that or hate that– that too, can create conflict.

When the pot gets stirred, and the going gets tough, that’s when the calls usually come in from all parties. My stance remains the same.

“I don’t need to hear the play-by play. Everyone gets an extra smile from my heart for working it through. I’m glad you are talking. Have as many secret meetings” as you need. I won’t take sides.”

The biggest worry seems to be, “what if I get exposed?” The truth is, there are at least two sides to every story. I know that. If your boss has any sense, she knows that. If YOU are the boss, same rules apply.

Once the storming is over, I love to ask “what did you learn about how to do conflict better?”

The truth is I ask myself this same question every day.

Sometimes I screw it up.

Conflict is never handled.

Conflict Survival Tips

Here’s what folks have told me they have learned (from addressing conflict in real situations). I hope this helps.

1. Don’t wait too long
Your issues become less relevant and feel more stupid to the recipient as time passes.

2. Own it
No one wants to hear “everyone is saying” comments

3. Carefully consider the input of others
Don’t let your response feel like retaliation

4. Watch your facial expressions when giving and receiving feedback
Everyone is watching those more than your words

5. Be prepared to give specific examples
Even if you are absolutely right, it’s difficult to digest and even more difficult to take action without the details.

??? My list goes on but, I’ll stop here and let you play. what would you add?

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Ron Klimley

    Thnaks Karin! I think my number six would be to not make it personal. I remind myself constantly, and others when appropriate, that it isn’t personal. We are looking for the best solution/resolution no matter where, or with whom that lies.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ron, Thanks so much for joining the conversation. Glad to have you hear. Yes! Not making it personally is a BIG one.

  2. ecdingler

    Awesome post!!!!

    I’ve recently learned to encourage my team to take conversations that last “10%”. That’s where we tend to leave what “should have been said”. People often take a conversation right up to the final piece they really need to say, but then stop. This is different then saying what you WANT to say…that could be hurtful and unnecessary. But saying what needs said is found in the last 10%. Take conversation all the way.

    Seriously, great post. I’ve copied to my Evernote as a resource for training my summer staff supervisors on “how to do conflict better”…love that line in your post. Gonna tweet that.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Eric, Thanks so much for your enthusiastic response. I like your add about getting to the last 10%, that’s a great way to think and talk about it. I will use that.

  3. Shawn

    Another learning that I would add to this conversation is to not involve too many people.

    Sometimes when conflict arises it feels comfortable to air out your concerns with friends and other co-workers. This can be problematic because you are continuing to repeat only your side of the conflict and furthering your distance from the reality of the situation.

  4. letsgrowleaders

    Shawn, oh yes….. I fully agree. Keeping it to the people involved is vital.

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