Interpersonal Conflicts

Conflict managementOne of the constant dynamics in professional or business situations is the presence of some level of interpersonal conflicts. The problem is that, a 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 and willing team leader.


One of the major responsibilities of a team leader is to provide guidance and direction to team members in the performance of their job responsibilities. However, counseling is more subtle. When team leaders counsel team members, they are offering advice as to what should be done and why. One particular organization’s policy for counseling associates is summarized as follows:

  • Team leaders should organize their thoughts before delivering them so that the message is clear and easy to understand
  • Pay attention to voice intonation and pitch
  • Listen to the associate in a patient, friendly, but intelligently critical manner
  • Help the associate to relieve fears or anxieties
  • Praise the associate for describing his or her thoughts and feelings accurately
  • Understand that gender differences should be appropriately considered in the “counseling” relationship.

Cultural differences may also complicate the counseling relationship. It is well established that individuals from different cultural backgrounds often have different communicating styles. Because one cannot always assess the cultured background of an associate, the team leader needs a general strategy for a good beginning and maintaining open communication.

A suggested strategy should include as many of the following as possible:

  • A show of genuine interest
  • A sense of curiosity and appreciation
  • Empathy
  • A non-judgmental attitude
  • Flexibility
  • A learning mode

The meaning of each of these is fairly obvious, except for the last one. Being in a learning mode means being free of preconceived notions. Team leaders are not asked to become psychiatrists. They are also encouraged not to use a massive dose of authority, such as, “Change or you’re fired.” If a team leader needs assistance with a particular case, they should seek assistance from their manager or the HR department.

Modifying Behavior

Behavior modification is the shaping of another person’s behavior by controlling the consequences of that behavior. Behavior modification is based on the principle that a behavior that is rewarded will continue and will cease or change if not rewarded or punished. 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 cease or modify it.

The keys to modifying behavior are the frequency and timing of rewards, non-rewards, and punishments. If team leaders understand the fundamentals of behavior modification, they can shape their teams’ behavior without getting involved in personality issues or deep-seated values. There are some considerations surrounding the timing of rewards or punishment.

They are:

  • Continuous reinforcement means that a team leader responds with rewards or punishments every time an associate performs a certain behavior.
  • Intermittent reinforcement means that a team leader responds to an associate’s behavior either randomly or at some regular frequency or interval.
  • Research demonstrates that 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.
  • Associates resent punishment and look for ways to retaliate, such as leaving their jobs, spreading negative rumors about the team leader, and performing only a minimum amount of work.
  • Instead of punishing poor behavior, many experts suggest that team leaders not respond to it. If an associate behaves correctly, the individual should be rewarded. If not, no reward should be given. In other words, punishment should be the last option that team leaders exercise.

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

Please “Like” and share your comments. Additional training resources are located here.

FREE Digital Course PreviewsChange Management  PRIDE System of Customer Service  Interviewing Skills  Performance Management  ROAR Model of Process Improvement  Superior Sales Strategies  Time Management


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.

Tagged with:
Posted in Conflict Resolution, Professional Skills

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 135 other followers

%d bloggers like this: