Is conflict taking over your team?

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, conflict will be part of your professional journey.

And it will either be a stumbling block or a stepping stone, depending on how you approach it. 

How we perceive and address it determines its impact on our leadership journey. As a leader, its your job to embrace challenges. Whatever stands in the way becomes the way!  

As a leader, conflict resolution isn’t just a skill—it’s an art. 

When ignored, conflict will divide your team, leading to decreased productivity, plummeting morale, and increased turnover. 

Companies with poor cultures and unresolved conflicts see a turnover rate of 48.4% compared to a mere 13.9% in those with healthy cultures. 

But you will not suffer this fate. Because you are looking at the world through the Leader’s Lens.

When approached with resilience, emotional agility, and a constructive approach, conflict will be a catalyst for growth, innovation, and strengthened relationships. 

And your team needs conflict! The goal is not to avoid it, but to become better at managing it.

This quarter, I’m writing about conflict every week, helping you alter your perceptions and embrace a positive mindset. 

Let’s look at the intricacies of conflict, its common causes, and the strategies to not just resolve but to harness it for organizational success. 

🕶 Also, don’t miss this. I’ll be discussing conflict resolution all quarer on my podcast.

Listen here.  Thanks to everyone leaving reviews and sharing with friends. It means a lot.

Common Causes of Conflict

Leadership is a dance. 

Some manage it gracefully, while others just look awkward and end up falling on their face.

As a leader, understanding the root causes of conflict is mission critical. 

Conflict, often perceived as disruption, is inevitable. When you understand the causes of conflict you will be able to do a better job of anticipating it so you can come up with a plan of attack.

Here are a few common causes you will absolutely need to address at some point:

  • Misperceptions and Misunderstandings: Often, conflicts are not started with malice but in misinterpretation. A simple miscommunication can spiral into a larger issue if you don’t take the time to ensure everyone is aligned on the direction.
  • Values and Beliefs: Every individual brings a unique set of values and beliefs to the table. When these clash, people argue. It’s a thing. Remember, everyone is who they are for a reason. Be empathetic, listen, and be transparent when communicating why decisions are made. 
  • Resource Scarcity: Whether it’s time, money, or manpower, limited resources can fuel competition and, by extension, conflict. Unlimited wants and limited means–it’s a thing.
  • Unmet Needs: From recognition to autonomy, unfulfilled needs can lead to feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction. Listen to your team and do your best to give them what they need.
  • Past Resentments: Old wounds can fester. Past conflicts, if not resolved, can resurface, triggering new disagreements. 

By recognizing and addressing these triggers, you’ll be better at creating an environment of understanding, collaboration, and growth. 

🕶 Remember, the goal is not to remove conflict, but to get better at navigating it.

Seeing People Deeply

You can’t lead if you don’t know your team.

It’s not just about what they do or what they say, but understanding who they are at their core.

Everybody has stories about how they became who they are. When we understand these stories, it’s easier for us to understand their motivations, predict their responses, and support them.

If you could spend a day in their shoes, what would you learn? What drives them? What worries them? By really getting to know your team, you’re building trust and getting to the heart of any issues that might come up. 

Everyone brings their own unique background and perspective to the table.

When we take the time to challenge ourselves to critically think about why people do the things they do, their actions generally make a lot more sense. 

Finding common ground is a first step in building rapport and creating the environment for an impactful conversation.

Great leaders have the courage to dig deep. 

When you take the time to really see your team members, you’re doing more than just solving problems. You’re building relationships, promoting understanding, and setting everyone up for success.

The 5 Layers of Why

Let’s get into this week’s framework.

As leaders, our decisions shape the future. When you don’t take time to understand the root cause of an issue, you risk settling for Band Aid Solutions.

Band Aid Solutions are common because they are quick and easy. 

The problem with bandaid solutions is that they don’t address the actual problem. This leads to teams who are constantly putting out fires, and wonder why they can’t get any work done.

Ever play that old whack a mole game at the arcade? As soon as you knock on down, 3 more pop up.

By understanding the root causes, we can make choices that are informed, strategic, and impactful. This will allow you to lead with clarity and ensure your actions align with your values

The 5 Layers of Why equips you to navigate challenges with a perspective that only comes from truly seeing the bigger picture. It’s not merely about finding answers; it’s about uncovering the deeper truths that often elude a cursory glance.

Don’t allow yourself to jump into problem solving mode until you’ve dug into at least 5 layers of a problem.

Here is a real-world scenario using the “5 Layers of Why” to uncover the root cause of a recurring issue in a company’s customer support department: a high number of customer complaints about delayed responses.

1st Why: Why are customers complaining about delayed responses?

Answer: Because the support tickets are not being addressed within the promised 24-hour window.

2nd Why: Why are the support tickets not being addressed within 24 hours?

Answer: Because the customer support team is consistently overwhelmed with the volume of tickets.

3rd Why: Why is the customer support team overwhelmed with the volume of tickets?

Answer: Because each team member is handling more tickets than they can manage effectively, leading to backlogs.

4th Why: Why is each team member handling more tickets than they can manage?

Answer: Because there has been a significant increase in product-related issues since the last software update, causing a surge in support requests.

5th Why: Why was there a significant increase in product-related issues after the last software update?

Answer: Because the update was rolled out without thorough testing, leading to unforeseen bugs and glitches that customers encountered.

Root Cause: The root cause of the high number of customer complaints about delayed responses is the rollout of a software update without comprehensive testing, which led to a surge in product-related issues and, consequently, an overwhelming volume of support tickets.

Now that a leader has taken the time to thoroughly understand the problem, they can create solutions that address the immediate needs while also fixing gaps in the system that will help prevent additional problems.

What is next??

Embracing challenges is the first layer of transformative leadership. It’s about viewing every obstacle, every disagreement, as a stepping stone towards your team’s goals. The tools and frameworks we discuss, starting with understanding the root causes to the profound 5 Layers of Why this week, are designed to help you become more confident in your ability to lead through difficult situations.

Next week we’ll look at 5 types of conflict resolution preferences.

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit

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