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How Managers Can Decrease Personal Tensions in Their Teams

We’ve all been there – when two colleagues start drama, it sucks the energy out of the whole place. And those little disagreements that no one deals with can explode into full-blown problems with time.

But as the manager, you don’t need to sit back and watch it all go down; there are ways to stamp disputes out early. Read on to learn a few easy tactics to diminish personal tensions and maximize workflow as a unit.

Types of Team Tensions Managers Can Face

Teams are made up of humans – and humans don’t always see eye to eye. Personality and communication mistakes are natural, so knowing what might trip your crew up is half the solution. With that context in mind, here are some common tension points managers commonly contend with:

Communication Breakdowns: One of the most common sources of tension that can arise is a breakdown in communication between team members. When there is a lack of clear and open communication, assumptions are often made, which leads to misunderstandings. 

For example, if Sally believes she discussed covering the client pitch with Tim, but he was unaware and unprepared, this simple miscommunication could breed frustration. Rather than clarifying misunderstandings directly, some individuals may hold back out of discomfort or save face. 

Lack of Role Clarity: When people aren’t sure who’s responsible for what, it’s just asking for trouble. They get confused about what they should be doing and who they should check with. Then, the fingers start pointing when deadlines are looming and nothing is being finished.

Moral plummets while everyone’s wasting time playing the blame game instead of working. Stress shoots through the roof, too, as jobs get batted around between people. Resentment also builds fast if the same people feel like they’re busting butt while others skate by.

It doesn’t take much for bickering and bad blood to flow under those messy conditions. And before you know it, the whole team’s at each other’s throats instead of focusing their energy on the real work.

Unfair Distribution of Workload: One surefire way to stir discontent within a team is through an uneven distribution of work responsibilities. When some members feel continually overburdened while others coast along with lighter loads, it can create hard feelings that can kill collaboration. 

A consistent source of stress is trying to keep up with more assignments than seems reasonable while watching your co-workers twiddle their thumbs between tasks. Over time, a sense of unfairness and resentment grows as roles are perceived not by skills but by how hard one has to labor.

If overburdened colleagues request help or redistribution of duties, they might be met with resistance, fueling further frustration. As a result, previously strong working bonds can break, replaced by indifference or hostility between those with a full plate and those with free time.

Personality Clashes: It’s inevitable in any team that not every personality will smoothly mesh together, and in close-knit teams, these differences can quickly lead to friction. Where one member prefers structure and routine, another might thrive on flexibility and change.

Some want leadership; others crave autonomy. And what one sees as determination, another labels as stubbornness. Over time, these conflicts in communication and workstyles begin to grate.

Things that started as minor annoyances have a way of getting under the skin over time. Individuals may actively avoid or disregard certain teammates now branded as “difficult.”  

Objective conversations may become heated disputes as biases spring to the surface. As a result, loyalties become divided and misguided as broken trust takes the place of the former friendliness between clashing members.

Unhealthy Competitive Atmosphere: In every team, some degree of competition can drive productivity. However, an overly competitive dynamic often backfires by encouraging division rather than collaboration. Team members can get too wrapped up trying to outdo each other instead of working as a unit. Subtle brags and passive-aggressive jabs can start replacing actual teamwork.

It leaves a sour taste when contributions are not acknowledged and credit gets hogged individually. Resentment and distrust are also bound to creep in when it seems like opportunities and rewards only come from stepping on others. 

Some will even try sabotaging peers to make themselves look better by comparison. People end up closing up instead of collaborating because they think any help will benefit the competition.

Common Signs of Personal Tensions Within a Team

Tensions can be tricky because they don’t always announce themselves loudly. However, paying attention to interpersonal dynamics may reveal if there are any subtle tensions within your team. Here are a few common red flags to watch out for:

Lack of Collaboration

When tensions start affecting people, one of the first signs is often weakened cooperation between teammates. Working well together comes naturally for tight-knit teams, but this happens through a willingness to lend a hand or share knowledge freely. 

If managers notice help becoming less readily given, even with a high workload, it could point to some underlying issues that are driving team members apart. In such cases, teammates who relied on each other before may now prefer doing their own thing rather than navigating hard parts together. 

Projects requiring multiple hands on deck could become stalled or prolonged if certain individuals who previously collaborated stopped doing so without explanation. So watch carefully for changes in natural team habits like pitching in or combining efforts – declines in such areas may signal cooling relationships. By catching reduced cooperation early, problems can be addressed before cooperation fully breaks down and affects the team’s objectives.

Negative Body Language

In tightly-knit teams, body language usually makes communication better. However, managers should notice if they start seeing more closed-off physical cues that imply discomfort or conflict. 

People who unusually avoid eye contact or interactions could be withdrawing mentally. Rolled eyes, exaggerated sighs, or visible frustration may hint at growing resentments just under the surface. 

Teams that were normally energetic may appear burnt out if slumped postures and drawn expressions become continuous. Even subtle changes like clipped tones or hastily avoiding conversations rather than engaging can signal tension with certain teammates. 

As managers, paying attention to shifts like these can provide valuable insight. Catching negative nonverbal signals early allows you to address issues before they escalate. 

Decline in Productivity

Productivity tends to take a nosedive when tensions start bubbling between team members. Even if quality and goals seem fine initially, that drive and focus will decline over time as your team members get distracted by conflicts. 

Managers need to watch for dips like dragging deadlines, clogged up workflows, or seeming less engaged overall. It’s a sign that stress is taking its toll when people drift into their lanes instead of collaborating with the team. 

Small annoyances won’t cause damage immediately, but if left unhandled, they’ll continually drain the energy that should be going toward the real work. It is important to nip such issues to prevent personal problems from ruining morale and accomplishment for everyone in the long run.

Man in black suit jacket feeling stressed
Reduced productivity may signal tensions that are affecting morale.

High Turnover

When you start regularly losing good team members without reasonable cause for new opportunities, it should raise flags. People don’t just bail for no reason, and when people start leaving in packs, it is often a reaction to internal pressures that make staying intolerable. 

Managers must note if those exiting drop hints about unrest or frustration within the team. Constantly shuffling staff can cause strains on those remaining, as more work would be piled on them from those who left. High-functioning teams naturally experience a flow of talent but not to the point where replacing members seems like a common routine.

Increased Conflict

More fighting between people who usually get along is a red flag that something’s stirring below the surface. Even little spats or rude exchanges signal that tensions are building if left unaddressed. 

Personal issues that make teammates refuse to see eye to eye mean you’ve got bigger troubles brewing. As frustrations simmer over time, logic can be replaced by emotion-driven arguing and defensiveness when issues arise.

Individuals may display unhappiness with others or actively criticize their work instead of constructively solving a problem, which deviates from healthy team norms. You need an eagle eye to catch small flames flaring into big fires through unheard complaints and disrespect. 

Reduced Communication

When your usually chatty team suddenly gets quiet with each other, it’s definitely important to take notice. Whether working remotely or in the same office space, open sharing of ideas, updates, and casual conversation helps keep energy and collaboration high. But if conversing shifts to only brief discussions about tasks without the usual warmth in between, that can be a sign of tension

As a manager, you need to watch for fast changes like helpful back-and-forth replaced by harsh, one-word replies. Withdrawn interaction can be a way for individuals to distance themselves from others silently. It is also a red flag because those small habits can quickly evolve into full-blown disconnects. 

How Best to Decrease Personal Tensions Within Your Team

Understand the Root Causes of the Tension 

Figuring out what is causing the tensions means understanding what’s fueling issues between people. Take time to have real talks with everyone involved in conflicts, listen without judgment, and ask good questions to uncover what kicked things off or is still simmering below.

Getting down to the root of tensions, whether previous mix-ups, unfair treatment, incompatible working styles, or other lingering triggers, gives you the picture you need to move forward. This lets you address the root problems directly. 

With that deeper insight, you can apply solutions to eliminate what is causing the problem, whether clearing confusion, making amends, or shifting things up. Figuring out the root of the problem lays the foundation for handling it right instead of just symptoms. 

Listen to All Sides 

Getting various perspectives from all parties involved in a disagreement or issue is a good way for managers to help diffuse conflicts. The situation might often look different depending on who you ask, so understanding different viewpoints is important to find a fair solution. 

Make time to separately and privately speak with each individual, whether they started issues, others had issues with them, or witnessed events, as well as meeting with the group collectively.

By impartially listening to all sides, you can accurately identify what matters to each person beyond the complaints. This ensures each person feels acknowledged for their experience. It encourages open dialogue and prevents misunderstandings about the intentions of others. 

Encourage Open Communication from Team Members

Fostering an environment of open communication between team members can greatly help decrease personal tensions. When employees feel comfortable bringing issues or concerns to their manager before they escalate, it quickly nips problems in the bud. 

As a manager, you should be approachable and encourage your team to share thoughts, ask questions, and provide feedback without judgment. Checking in regularly about how work is going, and relationships within the team can bring small irritations or disconnects to the surface early. 

Your team members should also feel empowered to discuss tensions directly with each other respectfully. When they agree to air grievances transparently but constructively, it can help to diffuse underlying frustrations so they don’t fester. An open-door policy and leading by example in communicating respectfully will help strengthen trust.

Ensure the Objectives of Each Member Align With Those of the Team

Ensuring everyone grasps how their goals link to supporting the team’s overall aims is important for easing tensions. When people see the common purpose in their work and that their contributions are valuable, it encourages more investment in the joint effort. Both the objectives for the team and expectations for roles should be clearly shared.

Consistent check-ins help align any targets that need to be clarified over time or understood. You can revisit objectives as a group to stop uneven or overlooked priorities from causing tension later on between members.  

Promote Unity Through Team Team-Building Activities

A group of people wearing shirts spelled TEAM

Bringing teammates together strengthens bonds and reduces tensions.

Organizing casual get-togethers like game nights, cooking classes, or volunteer days allows your team to bond outside the office. Having fun collaborating together on relaxed projects, whether escape rooms or photo scavenger hunts, fosters new connections and fresh views of each other. 

The shared positive experiences from these chill hangouts reinforce that your team is there for more than work. It reminds them success is about cooperation, not competition.

When people sense they’re tight as a unit, it naturally eases up tensions proactively. Small gestures toward team building go a seriously long way.

Lead by Example

As a manager, the way you carry yourself and treat people sets the tone for the whole crew. When you respectfully communicate with your team members, deal with problems constructively, and keep a positive attitude, it encourages them to follow your lead.

Leading by example shows that a disagreement doesn’t have to be an attack, and there are effective ways to get past tensions. When you actively listen without judgment, stay objective, and are fair, you can help prevent more problems from popping up unnecessarily.


Although tensions are natural in any team, you can guide your team members away from conflict and toward working as a unit. If you place honesty, compassion, and teamwork as the priority, you can help those under you feel united, and friendship can quickly replace resentment. After all, the key to effective management is building an environment where team members believe in each other.

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