Early Signs of Conflict

I have recently been asked about how to recognize the beginning phases of conflict. Conflict is different for everyone. However, there are some early signs of conflict that indicate a conflict may be brewing. You can use these to intervene before a conflict becomes destructive within teams and/or in your organization.  

Conflict can manifest itself in many ways. The impact of people’s actions can have a profound ripple effect throughout your team or company. Recognizing these beginning phases of conflict should be a primary concern.

Early Signs of Conflict

  1. Trust issues- Trust is the cornerstone on which teams and organizations are built. Trust is built from a relationship of confidence, support and respect. When trust is broke, it is time to take a step back and address everyone’s concerns.
  2. Cliques- If you have found that cliques have formed this is an advanced sign of conflict. Here are some ways you can recognize a clique:
    1. The same people always find themselves on the same team,
    2. After a meeting there are sub-meetings,
    3. There are non-verbal cues between clique members,
    4. Clique members share activities inside and outside of work,
    5. There is a ranking order within the clique,
    6. There is  a group lingo, speech patterns, and attire.
  3. Consistent disagreement- Do you find your team members are in constant disagreement over even the smallest things?
  4. Over-reaction- This is good indicator that there is anger or angst within a team.
  5. Unproductive meetings- This can manifest in many forms:
    1. Complaints,
    2. Repeated tardiness or absence from meetings,
    3. One strong voice that dominates meetings,
    4. Many complainers,
    5. Disengagement,
    6. Anger.
  6. Theft- Employees often steal as anger manifest itself.
  7. Power struggles- Instead of team members working on common goals, they compete and focus on each other’s flaws.
  8. Lack of communication- Individuals work independently rather than collaboratively.
  9. Non-verbal cues-
    1. Paralanguage- vocal tone, pitch, cadence, etc.
    2. Space- Are they distancing themselves or aggressively close.
    3. Facial Expressions- The human face can show an array of emotions and some people can be read like a book.
    4. Body Language- People are intellectual beings and can sense when someone is upset, angry, hurt, happy, engaged.  
  10. Appearance- Appearance can an early indicator to conflict. When we see an individual come in disheveled (dirty cloths, unshaven, no makeup, etc) or they stop dressing up as they once did, or their grooming standards have changed significantly, this is an indication that something is bothering that individual.

In order for organizations, teams and individuals to work in a productive fashion members need to be able rely on one another. Understanding and valuing each member is imperative. Having the capacity to be constructive communicators in both good and bad times allows teams to build bridges, not walls. Recognizing when members of our team are exhibiting indicators of early conflict can save you from hitting setbacks in achieving goals.

Companies do not effectively teach conflict resolution skills throughout their organization. Instead, employees are taught to report problems to a supervisor or human resources, or they are taught to compete rather than collaborate. People are faced with daily stresses, yet they often have little to no coping skills. People are not commonly taught communications skills, such as active listening, effectively restating a question, or how to recognize non-verbal cues. Recognizing these early signs of conflict can benefit your organization by stopping a potentially bigger conflict before is has a chance to escalate.

Great companies strive to achieve long-term success by focusing on missions statements, balance sheets, team building skills, and corporate branding. BUT, very few focus on recognizing these early signs of conflict. If the warning signs are present, my recommendations is to address it as quickly as possible. Be proactive so that you are not forced to be to reactive.

Again, I always love to hear your feedback and experiences. Please write back and share your thoughts.

Lee S.

Leave a Reply