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7 Suggestions on How to Handle Conflict in a Meeting

You can resolve issues among your team members, maintain a positive work environment, and help your meeting stay on track with these steps.

By Fellow.app  •   March 11, 2022  •   8 min read

You’ve planned a tightly run meeting with an organized agenda, specific talking points, and meeting action items to turn your ideas into results. But just 10 minutes in, some of your team members get into a debate and start getting mad at each other.

Like many people, you might find that managing conflict doesn’t come easily. But you also need to move your meeting forward without invalidating anyone’s opinion. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your team get back to working smoothly. Below, learn how to handle conflict in a meeting.

7 tips and suggestions on how to handle meeting conflicts

Your team comprises many different people, all with their own personalities. That means you’ll occasionally see goals or ideas clash when your team can’t seem to get to the bottom of an issue. Below are seven tips to help you handle conflicts that could come up during meetings.

1 Reduce the opportunity for conflict

One of the best steps you can take as a manager is providing fewer opportunities for conflict. No, you can’t magically get people to stop having different points of view. However, you can keep employees who might get into it out of the same meetings. That means really knowing who’s on your team, what they believe in, and how they work.

You can also announce some ground rules before getting into your meeting. That could mean making sure all your team members can fully share their thoughts before other people can start speaking. You can also encourage everyone to contribute so that one person isn’t dominating the discussion.

Preparing for your meeting also helps here – conflicts are less likely to arise when your meetings aren’t full of surprises. You should create and send out a meeting agenda before your meetings and hand out copies as everyone arrives. Your agenda can serve as a reference point in case the conversation starts to veer off course and into conflict. If it does, you can jump in and redirect the discussion.

If writing a meeting agenda before your meetings sounds like it would take too much time, Fellow can change that. With Fellow, you can share your agenda as you create it so everyone gets a say. This way, you get help with your agenda and create something that the whole team likes. And how can conflict arise when everyone is happy with what’s on the page?

Everyone gets a say

Create and share a collaborative meeting agenda that everyone can contribute to and prepare for. Try a tool like Fellow!

2 Watch for potential signs of conflict

Paying attention to body language throughout your meetings can help you see whether anyone is growing annoyed or frustrated. Look out for facial expressions like rolling eyes, tapping feet or fingers, shaking heads, or intimidating stares. Pay attention to vocal cues such as deep sighs, mumbled words, or whispers between two people.

You can also watch for certain situations that can easily lead to conflict. For example, your team might be struggling to decide how to proceed with a project. Letting the discussion linger for too long can lead to frustration and arguments. Instead, have everyone take a step back and approach the conversation from another perspective. You can also come back to the conversation later in the meeting.

Conflict can also arise when one person dominates the discussion and barely gives anyone else a chance to contribute. You can enforce your meeting rules to avoid this potential problem. Your rules give you the power to ask other people to share their thoughts. This way, you hear everyone’s ideas and encourage productive, conflict-free discussion.

Or maybe one employee is constantly being negative about another team member’s ideas. You can avoid conflict by offering positive feedback of your own and inviting others to share their thoughts.

3 Don’t be aggressive if someone disagrees with you

Everyone has their own opinions, values, and ideas. And these concepts won’t always align with yours. 

Sometimes people disagree because they simply don’t understand what someone else is saying. Other times, people apply their individual experiences to a topic. Because their experiences differ, they arrive at different ideas for how to handle a situation.

But a disagreement doesn’t have to lead to yelling and shouting. You should teach your team (and yourself, while you’re at it) how to gracefully respond to an opposing view. This way, you set a good example for your team and find the best way to move forward.

When someone disagrees, don’t get defensive or respond harshly. Try to understand what they’re saying and why. Then, you can figure out how to respond without getting angry – and while acknowledging how that person feels.

4 Agree to disagree

Ten, 15, 20 minutes have passed, and you and someone else just can’t agree on the color of your employees’ new uniforms. You’re not making progress. So do you keep talking about it and hope the other person will change their mind? Or do you table the whole conversation? Instead, you could agree to disagree.

When you agree to disagree, you agree that your opinions will never meet and decide to move forward anyway. This way, you can work together to address both your concerns and solve the problem. Maybe you choose a uniform color entirely different from either of your original ideas.

5 Propose a solution

Conflict can arise between just about any two (or more) people. The key is determining how to resolve it. Here’s a start: When a conflict arises in your meeting, listen to everyone involved and consider their feelings. From there, you can figure out exactly what’s causing the conflict. You can then decide on a compromise that addresses everyone’s concerns.

From this common ground, you can identify specific steps that each of the people involved needs to take. This way, everyone in the conflict can come to a resolution on their own time without derailing your current meeting.

6 Remain professional

When there’s a conflict, there’s always the potential for tensions to rise. How you handle the situation can be the difference between healthy conflict resolution and a hostile working environment.

Your team looks to you for examples of what to do and what not to do. That includes your reactions to conflict, whether good or bad. Staying calm and balanced is key to de-escalating a situation, setting a positive standard, and demonstrating how your team should handle future disputes. 

If you lose your cool, make underhanded comments, take sides, or resort to other unprofessional behavior, your team might do the same. Keeping things calm, cool, and collected instead allows you to gracefully defuse the situation and guide your team toward unity.

7 Schedule a follow-up

Sometimes, you can’t fully resolve a conflict during a meeting. You’re working with limited time, and you need to get through everything on the agenda. But that doesn’t mean you should discard the issue and move on like nothing happened. When you go that route, you put a pause on the current issue without pressing play again. That approach could result in recurring problems.

Instead, you can tell the involved parties you’ll meet with them outside the meeting to discuss the issue more and understand their concerns. This way, you can continue with your meeting and make the best use of everyone else’s time.

When you host one-on-one meetings to follow up with each involved person, you should keep an open mind and try to understand how everyone feels. From there, you can find a solution that takes everyone’s concerns into account and builds team collaboration. Going this route also comes with a nice bonus: In the future, your team might feel more comfortable bringing other problems to you. That’s a great way to nip issues in the bud before they fully become conflicts.

Types of conflict

Some meeting conflicts stem from issues that have nothing to do with your agenda or anything that’s come up in the room. These conflicts, which start elsewhere, often fall into three different types. Understanding them can help you decide how to approach the situation and properly defuse it. Below are the most common types of conflict.

Professional differences

This type of conflict often comes from clashing professional opinions. In most cases, these conflicts reflect work issues – maybe something like deciding how to best move your organization forward. 

For example, two managers might disagree about how heavily to emphasize deadlines in an employee training program. Maybe one thinks deadlines are the key to success and the other thinks deadlines, like rules, are made to be broken. Even if you realize this conflict during a meeting, they stem from each person’s professional viewpoint. One is a strict leader, and the other is more casual. That’s a professional difference.

Personality issues

Sometimes, people just don’t get along. Maybe one employee doesn’t like how loudly another employee speaks. Or maybe one team member thinks another just drops the ball all the time. These personality issues can be the real motive behind meeting conflicts – the meeting might just be a subconscious excuse to start a fight.

Solving personality issues requires you to understand why each person doesn’t like the other. Then, you can address the underlying problem and avoid conflicts in the future.

Power struggles 

Power struggles can arise when team members are fighting for control. Say, for example, your team is trying to improve your organization’s social media presence. One employee who’s been on your team for 10 years might express one idea, and a new employee might say something totally the opposite. The senior employee might feel like the new one is disrespecting their role. They might try to assert power over the new employee by dismissing all their future ideas.

Keeping a peaceful environment

Every organization sees team members disagreeing at some point. Conflicts that arise in meetings can make the whole affair super unproductive and cap your employee productivity. But now that you know how to resolve conflict in the workplace, you’re all set to have better meetings. Now go out there, watch for conflicts, nip them in the bud, and keep your team on track to hit all your biggest goals.

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