How to Fight Fair With Teammates

team members communication with each other

by Richard Highsmith

Conflict is inevitable in all relationships. The workplace is not so different in this respect than your personal life. It is simply part of the human condition. To resolve conflict more quickly in your professional (and personal) life with less long term damage I recommend following these straightforward rules.

1. Put yourself first. No, I’m not talking about voicing your views in a disagreement and disregarding the views of others. If you start off with “You always” or “You never,” your teammate will immediately shut down and the possibility of resolution becomes remote. Instead, start sentences with a statement of your feelings. “I feel angry when I am left cleaning up incorrect spread sheets.” Or “I’m frustrated when we can’t start the meeting on time.” These are called “I” messages. In summary first share your feeling then why you feel this way. When your teammate doesn’t feel blamed it opens up communication and moves you toward a solution.

2. Break it off. When you feel like things are getting too heated, call a “time out.” If possible physically separate yourself. If you are in a team meeting, table the discussion temporarily and move on to another agenda item. It is better to schedule a time when you have both calmed down and then try discussing the issue once more. This break allows emotions to settle, which allows participants to listen to each other more objectively.

3. Don’t turn back time. Rather than bring up past frustrations or hurts, focus on what you can do from this point forward to make things better. As an example let’s imagine that a teammate is constantly borrowing pens from your desk. When you need a pen, there isn’t one available. You have spoken to him/her before, but rather than point out how many times this has happened stay with an “I” message… “I am incredibly frustrated when I need a pen to jot down a note and find them all borrowed.”

4. Never call a teammate names or put them down. When you demean someone’s character or humiliate him or her, the issue you are trying to discuss is not heard… period! What will be remembered is your verbal attack. This kind of damage is difficult to undo because the memory of what you said will cloud their ability to discuss any issue of substance with you.

5. Listen to your teammate. Take turns speaking and really pay attention to their views of the situation. Don’t just wait quietly formulating your next response. Make a strong effort to listen and understand what your teammate’s beliefs or concerns are. When it is your turn, you’ll have a clearer view of the issue to address. Sometimes when the issues are complex or have a high emotional content it is helpful to repeat back what you heard. For example; “So you are saying that as long as we use the widget we will never make quota.” Or “”You are saying you feel very angry because people keep taking pens off your desk.”

6. Forgive and forget when your teammate apologizes. Be quick to apologize for your contributions to the problem as well. When you have expressed your feelings about a situation and your teammate acknowledges his/her part in it put it behind you and move forward. Dwelling on past grievances slowly builds a wall in the relationship. Conversely when you find yourself in the wrong promptly admit it. Resentment carried forward by either party will hurt the working relationship.

Following these six rules for “fair fights,” particularly learning how to use “I” messages, will greatly improve your ability to resolve conflict with your teammates in a timely manner and with little to no long term damage to the relationship or the team.

About the author

Richard Highsmith,  [email protected], is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at []