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Communication brain circuit

Brain circuits

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

Published 21 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 final exercise to rethink conflict

This is the final instalment in our five-part series on preventing team conflict. We have looked at questioning our assumptions about others based on their appearance, behaviors, communication and cognitive styles. So what could be left to explore? The all-pervasive issue of emotions.

Team members will differ widely in terms of the intensity of their feelings, how they convey passion in a group, and the way they manage their emotions in the face of disagreement.

Not being conscious of these differences can fuel all sorts of fires. For instance, an extroverted CMO at a logistics company we worked with assumed that the more passion she showed for her ideas, the more responsive the group would be to them. But her “rah-rah” approach was too much for the introverted, pragmatic CEO.

Ask your team to respond to these questions:

  1. In your world… what emotions (positive and negative) are acceptable and unacceptable to display in a business context?
  2. How do people express anger or enthusiasm?
  3. How would you react if you were annoyed with a teammate? Ideas include: with silence, body language, humor or via a third party?

Remember to ask yourself, too.

This is a sensitive area and early discussions should touch on not only the risks of venting but also the danger of bottling things up.

Remember, the benefits of anticipating and heading off conflict before it becomes destructive are immense. We’ve found that they include greater participation, improved creativity, and smarter decision making. We were delighted by this feedback from one manager: “We still disagree, but there’s less bad blood and a genuine sense of valuing each other’s contributions.”

We hope you have enjoyed this series and invite you to make Comments below.

Further reading:

The Emotionally Intelligent Manager by David R. Caruso and Peter Salovey



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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