Solving Conflict with Empathetic Listening
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide
Two orange and blue parrots looking away from each other as a metaphor for conflict and not talking anymore.

Managing a team can sometimes be challenging, especially when conflicts arise among team members. However, the power of empathetic listening cannot be underestimated in resolving such complex team conflicts.

Robert’s challenge

Recently, I coached a client who works in a global tech company. Let’s call him Robert. Robert oversees a team of diverse individuals with different backgrounds and personalities. One day, Robert was alerted to a conflict that had arisen between two of his team members, Gill and Frank. An important task had not been delivered in time, making the team look bad. And Gill and Frank each complained about the other to Robert. What’s more, their conflict was affecting the overall team dynamics.

Robert brought this to our coaching session. He knew that ignoring the conflict or imposing a solution without understanding the underlying issues would only lead to further escalation. But he didn’t know what to do. In our coaching session, he decided to apply empathetic listening, a skill he had recently honed.

How Robert used empathetic listening to resolve the conflict

First, he set up a one-on-one meeting with each team member separately, without any distractions. During these meetings, he listened actively to Frank and Gill’s perspectives, without interrupting or passing judgement. He made sure to maintain eye contact, provide nods of understanding, and paraphrase their concerns to show that he genuinely understood their points of view.

Through empathetic listening, he discovered the root of the conflict between Gill and Frank: a lack of communication and misunderstandings about each other’s roles and responsibilities. Frank felt that Gill was not pulling her weight in the team, while Gill felt that Frank was too controlling and not giving her enough autonomy.

Robert then scheduled a team meeting where he facilitated an open and honest conversation between Gill and Frank, allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings. He used active listening techniques, such as restating and summarising their points, to ensure that both parties felt heard and understood.

As the conversation progressed, Robert asked open-ended questions that encouraged Frank and Gill to delve deeper into their perspectives and concerns. He also encouraged them to find common ground and brainstorm potential solutions together.

Robert’s approach in a nutshell

By genuinely listening to Gill and Frank’s concerns and emotions, Robert was able to identify the root causes of the conflict and guide them towards finding a resolution. Through empathetic listening, Robert helped them understand each other’s perspectives, rebuild trust, focus on commonalities and come up with a mutually agreed-upon plan to resolve their differences.

Through this process, Frank and Gill not only resolved their conflict but also developed a better understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. The team dynamics improved significantly, and the overall team productivity soared.

Empathetic listening saves teams from becoming toxic

Empathetic listening is powerful in resolving complex team conflicts.  By actively listening to your team members, without judgement or interruption, and truly understanding their perspectives, you can address conflicts effectively and build a cohesive and high-performing team. And it does not cost you time. On the contrary, it saves time.

Empathetic listening is an essential skill for leaders to resolve team conflicts successfully. By actively listening to team members, understanding their perspectives, and facilitating open and honest communication, you can create a positive and productive work environment.

On the other hand, ignoring conflicts or imposing solutions without hearing all perspectives leads to factions and escalating conflicts which can turn a good team into a toxic one in no time.

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