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Tips for resolving conflict in sport
Sport is full of conflict. On and off the playing field, players and supporters can have strong and passionate allegiances that conflict, quite naturally, with the players and supporters of opposing teams. Within a team, different personalities make disagreements and differences almost inevitable and conflict can have a major negative impact on dynamics, cohesion and performance.
The business world has long recognised sport’s credentials when it comes to lessons in teamwork. There is a whole industry of ex sports stars who earn a living out of passing on those strategies to large and small corporations. So what are those strategies? How do we avoid conflict in a team and what can individuals do to resolve it when it occurs?
Tips for resolving conflict
1. Actively listen
Often when people talk to each other they don’t really listen. Active listening is all about showing you care about what the other person is saying and you are ready to understand their point of view. Often conflict comes from misunderstanding, but you need to actively listen in order to work out where the problem lies.
2. Stay in control
Emotions often run high when there is conflict and, although you may feel like yelling and screaming, you need to stay in control. Angry outbursts, verbal or physical threats, sarcastic comments, a cold shoulder or rolling your eyes tell everyone you are not really interested in finding a solution and could make the situation much worse.
3. Go to the source
Rumour and gossip are poison. If you learn something second-hand, don’t assume what you heard is true. Rather, go straight to the source and have a calm and controlled conversation with the person in question to determine if there really is a problem and what it may be. When it comes to resolving the issue, don’t discuss it with others or rely on a third party to relay your messages. Email, text messaging, social media and even the phone are no substitutes for a good old-fashioned face-to-face chat.
4. Be honest
Being able to express your view clearly and concisely is vital to resolving the conflict. You are much more likely to be heard and understood if you state the facts and get to the point. Make sure you speak with sincerity and honesty.
5. Search for a solution
Don’t be tempted to communicate a solution first-up, before the parties involved have had a chance to really listen and to express their own viewpoint. However, when everyone has a clear understanding of the problem, it’s time to work out a solution. This is the real challenge. You may have to compromise a little or change the way you do things. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective and discuss ideas for how you can move forward in the team.
6. Get help
If you are still unable to find a solution or come to an agreement that all parties are happy with it may be time for some mediation. Perhaps a coach or manager would be prepared to act as mediator or someone with no connection to the club. Often fresh eyes and ears bring new ideas and help to resolve a seemingly unresolvable conflict.
Behaviours that may help to avoid conflict
1. Assume everyone means well
Start by remembering that, even though your opinions may differ, you and your teammates share a common goal. After all, you are all part of the same team. That realisation can go a long way to defusing tension and avoiding conflict.
2. Don’t overemphasise winning
We all like to be the victors, but a ‘win at all costs’ attitude can actually encourage bad behaviour and poor sportsmanship. Enjoy learning new skills and putting them into practice with your team. Be positive and encouraging. Enjoy winning but also be a good loser. If you and your teammates love training and playing the results will take care of themselves.
3. Respect the game
Conflict is an occasional by-product of sport but, unlike the business world, sport often has mechanisms in place to manage that conflict. They’re called rules on the playing field and club policies off it and many of them are designed to penalise those who fail to resolve conflict in an appropriate manner. Read them, understand them and try not to break them.
It’s a great feeling to be part of a strong and successful sporting team but it takes much more than talent, physical skill and good form to win. Great teams perform at their best when individuals respect and trust each other. When a good team works well together, even losing can be fun.
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