Resolve Interpersonal Conflict … 2 Approaches

Conflict InterpersonalA team leader cannot change a person’s personality or basic values. These fundamental traits and deep-seated beliefs can usually be changed only through a time-consuming therapeutic process. Nevertheless, it is possible for a team leader to help associates modify the behavioral consequences of their personality and values. Let’s examine two behavioral approaches to conflict resolution that can be effectively used by a knowledgeable team leader.


One major element in the leadership process is directing team members. Telling them what to do is one form of directing, but counseling is more subtle. When team leaders counsel members, they are advising them about what should be done and why. Sometimes, just by asking the right questions, a team leader can provide solid, indirect advice to a team member.

A typical organizational policy for counseling associate is summarized as follows:

The team leader should:

  • Listen in a patient, friendly, but intelligently critical manner.
  • Help to relieve fears or anxieties.
  • Give praise for accurately describing thoughts and feelings.
  • As necessary, direct the discussion topics that have been omitted or neglected.

Gender differences may complicate the “counseling” relationship. When counseling, the team leader should follow these guidelines:

  • Be succinct and avoid long-winded stories.
  • Organize your thoughts before delivering them for clarity of message.
  • Be sensitive to voice tone, intonation, and pitch, and vary to gain more attention.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Maintain a business focus and avoid personal anecdotes.

Cultural differences may also complicate the counseling relationship. Individuals from different cultural backgrounds often have different communicating styles. The team leader needs a general strategy for getting off on the right foot and keeping the lines of communication open.

One suggested strategy is to:

  • Show genuine interest
  • A sense of curiosity and appreciation
  • Empathy and a non-judgmental attitude
  • Flexibility toward learning and being free of preconceived notions.

Counseling does not place a team leader in the role of psychiatrist. By following these guidelines, most team leaders can skillfully counsel their team members.

Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is the shaping of another person’s behavior by controlling the consequences of that behavior. B.F. Skinner (1953), stated that “Behavior is a function of its consequences.” What causes people to do the things they do? Most behavioral scientists believe that human behavior is rational, self-serving, and goal-directed. The goal of our behavior is to satisfy our needs. If those needs are satisfied, we continue that behavior; if not, we stop it. Understanding behavior modification can help to shape team member behavior without getting involved in personality issues.

Behavior modification is based on the following principles:

  • People will continue a behavior if they are rewarded for it particularly if the reward occurs soon after the behavior; people will stop behaving in a certain way if they are not rewarded, or if they are punished for the behavior. The rewards must be valued by the team member and satisfy their needs.
  • The key to modifying behavior is the frequency and timing of rewards or punishment that the team leader can employ to reinforce or eliminate certain team member behaviors.
  • Continuous reinforcement could be employed every time a team member performs a desired behavior.
  • Intermittent reinforcement could be employed either randomly or at a regular frequency or interval. Intermittent reinforcement tends to take longer than continuous reinforcement to produce acceptable behavior, but the behavior resulting from intermittent reinforcement will last longer and be more resistant to change.

Many behavioral experts believe that punishment should be used infrequently because it tends to produce undesirable side effects. Team members will look for ways to retaliate, such as leaving their jobs, spreading negative rumors about the team leader, and performing only the minimum amount of work. Rewarding the desired behavior is more effective than punishing the undesired behavior. Punishment should be an option that team leaders judiciously exercise.

Related Articles:   Conflict Resolution … here’s how!   and   Listening … the internal obstacles!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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