When I am called for team developments, conflicts within the team often play a (hitherto unaddressed) role. Seemingly everything appears to be “good” on the surface – reality, however, looks different. There is “no love lost” between single team members – unaddressed conflicts seethe below the surface. The animosities – however – do not end in a constructive conflict talk, but in gossip and whispering in the coffee bar.
Why do conflicts escalate?
But why does that happen? How do conflicts work? – Conflicts tend to develop dynamics of their own. The longer they seethe under the surface, the further the vicious circle of conflict escalation continues:
At the beginning certain forms of behaviour which impair one’s own interests and needs arouse negative feelings, such as irritation, frustration or anger.
This gives rise to the question: Why has this happened? Who is responsible for this? Who is to blame? The answer: The others. The reason is the one-sided, distorted perception which develops in conflict situations.
People tend to gladly share their perceptions and feelings with others. They also look out for allies who confirm their view of things and enforce them. So people often tend to talk about others rather than to talk with others. Groups and cliques arise. So the conflict spreads. That is what is called ‘social infection’.
The rise of cliques confirms your own perception. So you are less able to put yourself into the other one’s position, to understand (or want to understand) his motives and interests. So this ends in a loss of sympathetic understanding, respectively empathy.
The intensification again increases the negative feelings, which then again increases the distortion of perception etc.
What can I do to avoid conflict escalation?
The good thing about it is: the sooner the conflict is recognized and touched upon, the easier it is to break this vicious circle.
What are your experiences with conflicts within the team? How did you, in the past, manage to break the vicious circle of conflict escalation?
In my next blog entry you can learn more about how to address the conflicts in a constructive manner.