Developer Skills: Dealing with Conflict in Teams

Adapted from Tectonica Interpersonal Conflict Resolution-

Conflict Resolution

Projected Time

About 1 hour

  • Lesson: ~30 min

  • Group Practice: ~10-15 min

  • Independent Practice: 7 min




Whenever people spend more than a little time together, there will be conflict. We will learn ways to work through it while staying respectful and honest.


Participants will be able to:

  • Understand what conflict is and the common ways we address it

  • Add to our conflict resolution toolkits and become better at solving conflict effectively

Specific Things to Learn

  • Effective body language

  • Effective choice of words

  • How to build trust among teams


Note: much of this terminology is taken directly from a book series called Crucial Conversations

This lesson is intended to follow along with the Conflict Resolution Slides:

Today, we're going to learn about how to resolve conflicts! Conflicts are inevitable in life and in the workplace, and it's important to understand how to move forward in a respectful and effective way.

A few goals for today

  • Understand what conflict is

  • Common ways to address conflict

  • Become better at solving conflicts

Conflict is:

  • Varied opinions

  • High stakes

  • Strong emotions

  • Disagreement between equal parties

Who has heard of fight or flight?

  • In crucial conversations our instincts can sometimes present themselves as violence or silence.

  • These reactions stem from fear – not of the content of the conversation – fear of the conditions of the conversation.

  • When we fear that someone isn’t hearing our ideas, we want to push harder for them to hear us – that is a fight response.

  • When we fear harm or backlash, we become silent – that is a flight response.

  • Our goal is to avoid reacting in these ways AND try to use the tools we have to create conditions that help others avoid these reactions, too.

There are some ways of handling conflict; some are better than others. Some not great ways are avoidance, lashing out, or issuing threats. What we should do is have honest communication, using statements around "I", describing the impact of a situation, and describing what we'd prefer from a situation in the future.

The key to conflict resolution is controlling how you can be honest and respectful!

Group Practice

Exercise 1

In this chart, which percentages map to:

  • Word choice

  • Body language

  • Tone of voice

Word choice = 7% Body language = 55% Tone of voice = 38% Note that 93% of how people interpret communication is through tone and body language. Pretty huge.

Since body language and tone of voice are so important, there are some tips for how to convey positive body language, such as open arms, eye contact, upright posture, smiling, standing an appropriate distance away, etc. Some negative body language postures are closed arms, a slumped posture, no head movement, etc.

Exercise 2

Word choices for positive interactions, centering around would you mind, would you please, etc.

Exercise 3

What's important for dialogue is: Pool of Shared Meaning

  • It contains the ideas, theories, feelings, thoughts, and opinions that are openly shared.

  • More sharing is better! Anything less than total candor shrinks the shared pool, saps motivation, and dumbs down decisions.

It takes time to fill the pool; it leads to faster and more effective results than the game-playing that inevitably follows silence and violence strategies. Dialogue takes time. The alternative takes longer.

Dialogue only works when there is safety and trust

  • Acknowledge and look out for any signs of lack of trust; and repair them

  • Be open, vulnerable, and authentic. Remember honesty is key!

  • Step up, step back: Be exemplary for others, and that also means stepping back and letting others express themselves

  • Work together: make this a group effort! Make this a common goal to work towards, not against each other

To speak your mind completely in a way that allows room for dialogue, you must express your views in ways that maintain safety, and you have to find a way to be both confident and humble.

As long as your intent is pure and you learn how to make it safe for others, you can talk to almost anyone about almost anything. The key is to make the other person feel safe.

  • Mutual purpose: They need to know that you care about their best interests and goals

  • Mutual respect: They need to know that you care about them. When people believe both of these things, they relax and can absorb what you’re saying; they feel safe.

You have to know how to speak without offending and how to be persuasive without being abrasive.

The five skills that help us share our tough messages can be easily remembered with the acronym STATE. It stands for: Share your facts Tell your story Ask for others’ paths Talk tentatively Encourage testing

Let’s break these down one-by-one

Start by sharing the facts—use dialogue to add facts to the pool. As you share the facts, re-frame your story in your mind without emotion so you’re responding more positively—you are no longer taking an action the worst possible way. Challenge your assumptions.

It's easy for being upset to impact how you react or communicate. But we shouldn't let emotions cause us to unfairly blame others. We control how we react and respond. As we become emotional, our mind forgets the facts and we start asking ourselves, “What is the worst and most hurtful way I can take this?” This negative spin escalates our emotions and causes us to do the worst when it matters the most.

We must challenge the assumptions we are making and evaluate the facts; to tell the full, objective story. And in order to get all the facts we need to tell the entire story. We have to dialogue with the other people involved in our story and add them to the POOL.

Tell your Story Oftentimes we can prevent conflicts from growing by quickly giving and receiving feedback. The SBI framework: Situation/Behavior, Impact--and then Request. You don’t have to stick to it exactly (for example I like to add request at the end). Think of it as a guide. Let’s walk through some examples (see slide 21).

Ask For Others’ Paths Ask for feedback from others, and ensure it's a loop of feedback! It's a way also to build trust among your team

Talk Tentatively Make sure that you express your story as your story, and express and understand that there should be varying levels of confidence and humility. Also engage softer language, using "I" language instead of definite fact, to help make your tone more empathetic and understandable to who you're engaged with.

Encourage Testing Show that you are willing and want to hear the other side of the story, or other viewpoints, and be challenged on your own thoughts. Test the facts, and be willing to adapt!

Exercise 4

When others go to silence or violence:

  • Physical signs include sweaty hands and a dry mouth

  • Emotional signs include a high-pitched tone, sounding angry or scared

  • Behavioral signs include pointing fingers, shaking fists, unusual silence.

As we see others moving to silence or violence–sharing mostly stories or very little at all–it helps us stay in dialogue if we can encourage them to share their entire Path to Action, or the explanation of how emotions, thoughts, and experiences lead to our actions. We have to find a way to move others back to their facts.

It also helps curb our own defensive response. We should ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person think or feel this way?”. Stay curious! It’s hard to feel defensive and curious at the same time.

Finally, it takes us to the only place where the feelings can be resolved: The source (the facts and story behind the emotions).

Getting Unstuck We need healthy dialogue to open up trust and understanding, but the ultimate goal is to get unstuck by taking the appropriate action.

  • Always agree on when and how follow-up will occur (one email to a full report) to create action

  • Effective teams and healthy relationships are supported by records of the important decisions made after difficult dialogues, and the assignments agreed upon. Good teams revisit these documents to follow up on both the decisions and the commitments.

  • When someone fails to keep a commitment, candidly and directly discuss the issue with him or her.

To get unstuck: CRIB!

Commit to seek mutual purpose Recognize purpose behind the strategy Invent a mutual purpose Brainstorm new strategies

Common Mistakes / Misconceptions

  • The only reactions are fight or flight for conflict resolution

  • The point of conflict resolution is to win

Group Practice

Practice Session 1 (Slide 8)

We are going to read through this scenario and practice with some role play. (READ SCENARIO in slide 8) Groups of 3 – one person will play the role of Missy, one person will play her manager, and the third person will be the observer. Decide who will be who….

Missy's prompt: it’s after the meeting you are going to talk with your manager about what happened (show previous slide for help)

Manager's prompt: You will play the role you think the manager might play – you can respond well, or poorly, to Missy – the choice is yours.

Observers: You are an invisible observer. If you see Missy struggling or stumbling, you are the only person who can call a time out and provide her with some coaching/advice.

Ready? You get 3 minutes to practice. Let’s go!

Then Debrief with the groups. Then have them switch roles.

Practice Session 2 (Slide 10)

Talk through each of the do’s and don’ts.

Now I would like you to stand and face your Brother or Sister. First, I would like you to display to each other an example of closed body language. How do you feel about the communication? Now display an example of open body language and eye contact. How do you feel about that communication? Sample correct responses from the group may include:

  • Open arms vs. closed arms

  • Smiling vs. frowning

  • Eye contact vs. non eye contact

Practice Session 3 (Slide 12)

Try reading "I can't wait to go to work today" ...out loud like you are excited. Now try nervous. And angry. Isn’t it interesting how the same sentence can take on different meanings just based on the emotions you are using when talking? Now, say the sentence out loud emphasizing the word “I”. Next try emphasizing “work”. And “today”. See how the sentence means different things when you emphasize different words?

Independent Practice

Watch this 7-minute video on Resolving Workplace Conflicts.