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Communication brain circuit

Brain circuits

How to boost your team’s immunity to conflict: Step 3 of 5

IbyIMD+ Published 4 April 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Most teams take a reactive approach to conflict by trying to improve team members’ capabilities to respond to clashes. These approaches often allow frustrations to build up for too long, making it difficult to reset negative impressions.

But what if you tried to immunize colleagues against the negative impact of differences at a very early stage in the team’s existence? The skills needed to facilitate such proactive discussions are far easier to master than those required for conflict resolution.

A simple tool can help structure open conversations around five domains – along with five sets of questions designed to surface key differences that disrupt team functioning. The approach empowers managers to facilitate team discussions before the differences between colleagues have had a chance to trigger strong emotions or animosity.

A third exercise to rethink conflict

In our previous brain circuits on the topic of team conflict, we looked at questioning our assumptions about others based on their appearance and behaviors.

But there is also the question of differing communication styles to become aware of. The words people choose to express themselves and even the degree of humor and number of pauses they use are open to misinterpretation.

Even when speaking the same language, two parties may interpret expressions differently, and those expressions may even be embedded in the organizational goals.

Ask your team to respond to these questions:

  1. In your world… is a promise an aspiration or a guarantee?
  2. Which is more important: directness or harmony?
  3. Are irony and sarcasm appreciated?
  4. Do interruptions signal interest or rudeness?
  5. Does silence mean reflection, disengagement or even disagreement?

Remember to ask yourself, too.

Finally, a takeaway tip from Heineken USA, where board members use little toy horses that sit on the conference table to encourage taking turns. It you’re talking and someone tips one over, you know you’re beating a dead horse and it’s time to move on.

Ultimately get your team to become open from the start about how much of X behavior is appropriate and how it can be managed.

Here are other conversations to have, that will help you prevent team conflict.


Ginka Toegel - IMD Professor

Ginka Toegel

Professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership at IMD

Ginka Toegel is a teacher, facilitator, and researcher in the areas of leadership and human behavior. Specialized in providing one-to-one leadership coaching and team-building workshops to top management teams in both the public and private sector, her major research focuses on leadership development, team dynamics, and coaching. She is also Director of the Strategies for Leadership program and the Mobilizing People program.

Jean-Louis Barsoux - IMD Professor

Jean-Louis Barsoux

Research Professor at IMD

Jean-Louis Barsoux helps organizations, teams, and individuals change and reinvent themselves. He was educated in France and the UK, and holds a PhD in comparative management from Loughborough University in England. His doctorate provided the foundation for the book French Management: Elitism in Action (with Peter Lawrence) and a Harvard Business Review article entitled The Making of French Managers.

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