Because project team members have different backgrounds and experiences, misunderstandings may arise that can threaten workplace harmony. However, dealing with divergent interpretations need not derail teamwork. To build a team culture that values a healthy exchange of opinions and approaches, train your teams to debate respectfully. Difficult conversations can then occur regularly to bridge gaps (instead of breaking bonds) that, left ignored, could lead to small and large disagreements. Take these proactive steps to forge a solid foundation for ongoing effective work environments:

Make it Safe to Fail.

Sometimes, ineffective communication occurs when team members get overwhelmed or overworked in stressful situations. As a leader, you must make it okay for your staff to experiment with new ideas to overcome obstacles. Take steps to encourage discourse and debate. Even the most straightforward misunderstandings could lead to missed deadlines, hurt feelings, bruised egos, and long-term dysfunction without effective resolution. You should help your team navigate different approaches to problem-solving.

For example, reward behaviors that get your team closer to working together to solve customer issues instead of punishing people for taking chances. Try this: allot 10 minutes at every weekly team meeting to discuss any recent missed opportunities and what could be learned or done differently next time. If you allow people to learn from their mistakes by relying on each other, their relationships tend to improve.

Set Up Team-Building Opportunities

Good communication occurs when the listener and speaker both express their messages so that the meaning is clear for the other person. Often, the words spoken (particularly if the listener speaks a different native language than the speaker), taken in the wrong context, convey a different message than intended.

Additionally, work environments that depend on video conferencing foster conditions that make paying proper attention challenging. When people focus on instant messaging behind the scenes rather than the live conversation going on in the meeting, they may lose the flow of the forum and react negatively or emotionally when they shouldn’t. A simple comment may be misconstrued and trigger unfounded fears. Instead of talking it out, people become conditioned from childhood to suppress feelings or ask for clarification that might rock the boat.

So, set up team-building exercises with chances to expose team members to new, effective problem-resolution techniques, such as questioning why repeatedly to get to the heart of the issue. When you iteratively ask why a situation occurs, you can better understand the cause-and-effect relationships that underlay the root problem. Using this approach, teams can focus more on the issue at hand (rather than their feelings) to overcome personal differences and get the job done.

Model Listening Behavior

Resolving team misunderstandings typically starts with team members taking time to fully listen to each other and removing the emotional charge from their exchanges. As a leader, you can show people what waiting means until the other person stops talking. Any team member can better grasp a situation by listening to an entire statement. Show them how it’s done by allowing dissent in your team meetings and handling their objections publicly. If all conflict resolution occurs behind closed doors, people may assume resolution happens quickly, without much work. This easy fix is typically not the case.

Also, demonstrate that if you can articulate how to share feelings publicly, it makes you vulnerable yet powerful — model how to listen carefully and engage when appropriate for the best results. This approach means you may also let some arguments go. Choose your battles wisely, and you’ll never regret the fights you take on because they’ll mean more to you and your team.

Don’t Allow Unsafe Behavior

While you want to enable a collaborative environment, you can’t ignore people who take advantage of the situation to blame or accuse other people. This behavior tends to create a toxic environment that ruins things for everyone, personally and professionally. Establish rules for engagement and stick to them. For example, do not allow bullying of any kind. Each team member should be valued for their perspective. Let everyone speak.

Even when team members have a significant disagreement, there’s always an opportunity to learn from the experience for future altercations. By creating awareness of the benefits of better communication, you can set yourself and your team up for better discussions on your next project.

In Conclusion

Always remember to gather the team after completing a project and conduct a post-project review to capture what worked well and where breakdowns occurred. If you can’t achieve a team meeting, at least record your observations about what you might have done differently. If tensions run high, wait a while before bringing everyone back together. This strategy should give everyone the time needed to process independently before addressing group problems.

Never give up trying to resolve team misunderstandings. Everyone wins when you strive to develop a sense of belonging and connectedness. Developing everyone’s emotional intelligence is even more important as the workplace becomes inundated with artificial intelligence.