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What to do about conflict in your software development team

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Most of us avoid conflict and confrontation as much as possible. It can be uncomfortable and we tend to assume it will create a break or tension in our relationships.

TL;DR

  • Conflict does not have to be feared or have a negative impact on your relationships
  • If you know the right questions to ask, it can lead to deeper connection
  • Turning conflict into something that strengthens teams takes courage

But what if conflict could actually make you closer and build trust and connection rather than break it?

Here are a few questions to ask when conflict arises that will bring you closer rather than drive you further apart.

Questions to ask when you experience conflict in your software development team

“Tell me why you don’t like this suggestion.”

When someone disagrees with you, or objects to a suggestion you just made, it may be seen it as an attack that pushes you into fight/flight mode. You might get defensive or move into passive mode as your fears about losing their support pop up.

What if instead, you looked at this disagreement as an opportunity to get to know that person better?

Asking a follow-up question will help you know more about how the other person thinks and what they value. It opens the door to a deeper connection with this person.

A new perspective: “Tell me how you see this situation.”

When someone on your team, who presumably should share your goals, disagrees with you, usually it’s because they are seeing the situation from another point of view.

Asking them to explain their perspective will expand how you see the situation and always leads to a more robust understanding.

Uncovering fears: “What are you most afraid of?”

When someone comes to us in a heated or reactionary state, typically they are afraid of something and trying to protect themselves.

Pulling back from the heat of the moment and trying to uncover what they are most afraid of can help both of you understand the REAL issue. Oftentimes what appears to be the "point of conflict” is only a distraction from what is really driving the situation.

Find common ground: “What do you most want?”

Sometimes in conflict, we lose sight of the fact that we really do both want the same thing. Or at least what the other person wants (support, guidance, information, etc.) is something we are more than willing to give.

When we ask this question, we can find common ground with the other person and connect over this shared desire. The rest of the conversation can turn toward how to get our commonly desired outcome.

Removing the sting of conflict in software development teams

When you shift your perspective from seeing conflict as a negative blocker, to an opportunity for connection, you remove the sting of the conversation.

You can more easily move from a defensive stance that is closed off and armored up, into a collaborative stance that is curious and open.

It’s not me vs. you, but simply us understanding each other and the situation better. The truth is, when we are in conflict, we typically say things that are true with less filter and more directness than we do when we are “trying to be nice.”

Our very niceness can keep us from really knowing each other and working together successfully.

That’s not to say we don’t engage respectfully in every conversation (of course!) but “niceness” tends to be a fake expression where the main concern is not to upset anyone. Truth (combined with respect) may ruffle feathers, but in the end, leads to deeper connection and trust.

Have you had a conflict that resulted in a stronger relationship rather than a weaker one? What contributed to that impact?