Overcome with all the negativity on your team? All the finger-pointing. “You shouldn’t have done that!” Or, when things are challenging, you become small, retreating into your shell?

Maybe you’re tired of team members avoiding saying what needs to be said. (I suspect most of us have been there.) Or, you’re drained by having to deal with difficult colleagues?

I’m reminded of the film ‘12 Angry Men’ – watch the 90-second trailer.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if people were clear, direct and transparent – if people let their voices be heard?

What’s possible?

Just think – what’s possible if your team communicated better? How more innovative could your team be if they all felt that they could contribute to the debate, without fear? How more productive could your team be if people felt empowered?

What would it be like to have your team comfortable with the uncomfortable?

If they can learn to increase their range of emotional experience, they can enhance their team relationships (personal relationships too). That’d free up energy and time for them to focus on stuff that matters – like delivering better service and hitting those targets (or indeed, having more enjoyable times with loved ones).

Just think about how much more could get done!

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse*

John Gottman, in ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’ identified four toxic conflict styles, often referred to as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.

This uncomfortable behaviour, which you might recognise, is:

  • Blaming – attacking the person rather than the behaviour, e.g. “You’re really crap at this!”
  • Defensiveness – refusing to own your own behaviour – think Bart Simpson: “It wasn’t me.”
  • Contempt – includes sarcasm and hostile humour (the most toxic toxin!)
  • Stonewalling – withdrawing, giving the silent treatment (anyone sulking?)

10 tips to constructively handle conflict

So, here are some things you could try next time one of the Four Horseman appear…

When someone’s aggressively blaming you:

  1. You could ask the person: “Are you willing to continue talking without blaming?”
  2. Or maybe: “What’s the request behind your blaming?” i.e. what do you really want from me? What would help us best?
  3. Most of all, address the behaviour you don’t like, not the person.

When you’re feeling defensive:

  1. Treat any complaint as if it were only partially true and be really curious about it. So, if only 3% of what she says is true (and the rest isn’t true), then what would that 3% truth be?

(I remember an example years ago when I felt defensive around a complaint about me at work. I thought that maybe, just maybe, my boss could be right. I consciously took the criticism, put my defensiveness aside and focused on upping my game over the next few weeks. It worked. It turned things around for how my boss perceived me.)

When you’re being treated with contempt:

  1. Maybe you could ask: “Are you willing to resolve this without sarcasm or name-calling?”
  2. You may want to be clear, by using a “I feel… I want statement”, so for example: “I feel totally worthless when you belittle me. I want you to stop.”

(I can certainly think of cases in the past where this could have worked!)

When you’re stonewalling:

  1. How about reminding yourself that this issue is really important to the team and so they’d value hearing what you think. Also that anything you say is totally ok as long as its handled with respect and care.
  2. You could proactively invite alternative views in. At the start of each meeting (at least for the first month, in order to create a pattern) you could give your team permission to voice contrary viewpoints during the meeting and thank them for their courage in doing so.

(I can think of a recent case where – against my natural default – I told my boss about something she’d done that negatively impacted the team. It was hard for me to initiate this conversation – but when doing it, I realised, it wasn’t too challenging. And with this learning, I’ll be able to do this far easier next time.)

What’s next?

  1. Together, with your team, develop a behavioural plan that creates permission for any team member to call out when one of the Four Horsemen are present. (You may even agree a humorous signal, making it even easier for any team member to name it.)
  2. To support your learning, give a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team‘ to each of your team members. It’s a brilliant book – so clear and easy to read.

If you’ve attempted to change team behaviour like this and found it difficult to transform your team into a more positive (and therefore productive) team, I’d be delighted to support you with a bespoke team coaching programme.

Want to improve your team culture?

If you’re looking to improve how your team/s work together and need some help, then contact me about team coaching. We will work out a tailored plan to help create more positivity on your teams and help them deliver your service, better.

*With thanks to the Centre for Right Relationship, Organisation and Relationship Systems Coaching.