Creating Trust Through Conflict

Creating Trust Through Conflict

By Corporate Coach, Michael Steele

Work and Conflict. It is always there and always will be.

We all want a positive work environment; we all want to enjoy our jobs each day. But, let’s face reality, every workplace has basic conflicts: turf wars, one-upmanship, difficult teammates, and more. While often unpleasant, conflict is part of the growth process in any business. The key to successful conflict lies in leadership, and a key to successful leadership is trust.

Managing Conflict
Conflicts that get out of control in the workplace are counterproductive and can bring problems that affect profitability and employee retention. When tensions arise that cause the office to become toxic and unproductive, leadership must step in. 

As a leader, it’s important to address the issue quickly, and make the best out of a situation that has gone astray. Good leaders know that communication is a critical tool, and conflict resolution is the goal. With that in mind, leaders need to quickly engage discussion, be decisive, and make sure that both sides are heard. Listening is one of the primary ingredients for building trust, and as a mediator, the leader can help ensure both sides have the opportunity to “hear and be heard.” In the end, each side must understand that a decision must be made, even if the decision does not favor their side. 

Leaders who are proactive, can help minimize the number and severity of conflicts among their team through these trust-building actions:

  • Spend the Time: Build a relationship with each member of your team before any issues arise. A leader or coach needs to spend time with their people to build the lines of communication. This time needs to be both in the workplace and, if possible, at events outside the office. Getting to know your team outside of work shows you care and helps build the trust you want as a leader.
  • Keep it Simple: You can avoid controversy by having only a couple rules and not making things too complicated. Communicate these rules with your team, and expect and trust them to do the right thing. Your consistency will provide a stable foundation for trust-building among your team.
  • Constant Feedback: Engage in constant communication and give your people consistent feedback, both the good as well as the bad. Positive feedback builds trust, while expressing challenges helps define expectations. This communication style makes you an effective but approachable coach when conflict occurs.
  • Be Specific: As you build trust with your team, tell your employees exactly what they need to do to move up. This feedback gives them an understanding of how they will be able to succeed in your company.
  • Understand the Roles and Rules: As a leader, it is important to set the tone for your work environment. Rules and roles should be communicated to, understood, and upheld by each team member. Responsibility and accountability helps keep conflicts small, but keep in mind they will still occur. 

Providing effective leadership through conflict requires utilizing and requiring the key communication skills of listening and sharing. When these expectations are applied to everyone, they will keep the team intact, and build trust. As the team leader, it is up to you to balance the turmoil. To do this, show respect to both sides, listen to the opposing viewpoints, and focus on solutions that have the company’s best interest. Overall, trust is earned when leaders project a calm, consistent tone, especially during conflict, and that creates a healthier work environment for everyone involved.


Michael Steele has used his basketball coaching experience to create winning teams in business and finance. He offers a unique perspective to business leaders and team members looking for the “win.” Click here for more info on Michael.