Feeling Comfortable With Conflict

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If I wrote a post called, Conflict Keeps Teams at the Top Of Their Game, what would you think?  Many of you probably wouldn’t believe me, but when I read that headline on the Harvard Business Review’s website, I thought it was great.

When I speak to various groups about their female athletes and how to beat the cursed “girl drama”, I explain that in my opinion it all comes down to how their team handles conflict.  If their players view conflict as inherently negative, then when it ultimately arises (it always does) they don’t know how to handle the situation.

Why teams experience conflict

At the beginning of our season, I explain to my team that it won’t always be this way.  Day 1, everyone sees themselves as a starter.  Day 1, people haven’t started to get on each other’s nerves yet.  Day 1, the players aren’t trying to balance practice and relationships and school work.  So it’s all great.

Eventually starters are named.  Personality conflicts may arise.  By midseason, players are frazzled with the grind of the season and trying to balance it all with their school work and having a social life.  If we don’t warn them this will happen, they’re going to be blindsided and think something is wrong, when it’s actually perfectly normal.

The contradiction of teams

Before I really sat down and thought about it, I didn’t realize how odd the idea of “team” can be.  Think about it: We’ve got a group of athletes who are committed to a common goal (because they can’t accomplish it by themselves), but there are subsets of folks within the group who are in direct competition with one another.  If we don’t think conflict will happen in that environment, we’re crazy.

Preparing your athletes for conflict

  1. Take feelings out of it.  When conflict first rears its head, it feels very uncomfortable.  That feeling sometimes makes our athletes feel as if the team is experiencing problems, when it’s actually going through a very normal part of the team building process.
  2. Creatively solve problems.  I’m sure coaches out there have all sorts of solutions to guide their teams through conflict resolution, but my favorite is to have them take personality tests.  In my experience, we’re all (players and coaches alike) drawn to complementary personality types and generally have conflict with those folks who aren’t like us.  For example, the super quiet player might think the very outgoing player is really annoying.  Showing our players how much of their conflict could arise from something as simple as an opposing personality type keeps the conflict from feeling personal.
  3. It’s bound to happen…and that’s good!  If you’re scanning this post and not really reading the whole thing, I hope this one thing sticks out to you.  We’ve got to tell our teams that conflict will happen and that it’s okay.  Make sure you equip them with some great conflict resolution skills (Don’t know any?  Check out the posts below.) and watch them flourish.  Conflict isn’t bad…not dealing with conflict is bad.


Collaboration and success won’t happen when conflict is seen as negative.  Let’s all agree to educate our teams on healthy conflict resolution tactics.

If you enjoyed this post, check out 5 Ways To Make Conflict Work For You And Your Team, A Step By Step Guide To Handling Conflict On Teams, 3 Keys To Building Collaboration Within A Competitive Culture, and Teaching Our Players How To Handle Conflict.