Career Development

Why Conflict is Actually Good for the Workplace

For many, conflict immediately invokes thoughts of battle, shouting matches, or even negative relationships.  Certainly, this isn’t what I am suggesting as good for the workplace. Conflict is a natural part of relationships and human communication and shouldn’t be viewed as inherently negative or unhealthy.  What matters is how one manages conflict with others. 

Why is Conflict Good for the Workplace?
Conflict is a natural process of communication and facilitates the sharing of divergent viewpoints.  The process of gaining multiple perspectives on any issue is critical to identifying problems, designing interventions, and producing optimal solutions.  Ironically, conflict is a natural part of cooperation as teams will always have to manage conflict to get the best results.  Without conflict, you have groupthink, you discourage innovation, and you discourage learning, none of which are ideal for a productive work environment.  Leaders see conflict as a healthy, natural, and even necessary process to evolve, improve, and achieve.  Although conflict itself should be viewed as a healthy part of improvement, growth, and team development, peoples’ personalities and conflict management skills are typically the differentiating factor between positive and negative experiences with conflict. 

Handling Conflict
If you first change your perspective about what conflict is, you can begin to change your experiences with it in work settings.  Having this perspective of conflict will more likely lead to a change in one’s approach when faced with opposing viewpoints.  The goal of conflict isn’t necessarily to “win” or to change other peoples’ minds, but to gain understanding and to make optimal decisions based on the input given.  Of course, making sure conflict is properly managed requires strong leadership skills because people have varying levels of skill in communication, conflict resolution, and listening among many other skills and qualities that allow for healthy conflict.  Leaders must manage this process with their teams and coach their team members on how to manage conflict on their own without the leader’s involvement. 

The Results
Conflict, like debate, is a process of truth finding.  Rarely does any single person just magically create solutions to problems.  People use their skills and knowledge to research and understand challenges and deduce potential interventions to manage and solve problems.  Typically, while going through this process, people have internal conflict, debating with themselves whether or not to do something and why they should or should not.  The result of conflict shouldn’t be damaged relationships, low morale, defeatist attitudes, or anger.  These are signs of poor leadership.  I think conflict should be embraced and viewed for what it is – natural and healthy.  If a team can have open, honest, and respectful disagreements to achieve their common goals, that is the sign of a very strong team and a very strong leader.  The results of conflict can be stronger, self-managed teams, improved processes, improved strategies, better outcomes, and closer relationships.  

7 1/2 Tips on Handling Workplace Conflict:

  1. See Conflict as an Opportunity to Learn and Gain Understanding – Don’t feel threatened by challenge, be open to it. 
  2. Be Respectful and Control your Emotions – Always maintain professionalism. 
  3. Stick to Facts – Avoid making emotional arguments, making value judgments, exaggerating, or being sarcastic.  Focus on facts and observations to logically present points.
  4. Ask Questions – Don’t make assumptions about others’ viewpoints.  Ask questions and genuinely care about understanding someone else’s viewpoint. 
  5. Mitigate Unhealthy Conflict Management by Others – When dealing with people, not everyone will play by the rules so recognize when others aren’t and mitigate their poor behavior by using humor, mediating, re-stating points, clarifying, or even tabling the conversation to let people calm down if it gets to that point. 
  6. Validate Others’ Points – Recognize and validate other peoples’ points and try to find some consensus.  Show appreciation for points made even if you disagree.  Remember, understanding is the goal vs. agreement.
  7. Manage your Communication – Communication skills are always key to having healthy conflict but even if you master your diplomatic verbal communication skills, manage your body language as well.  Watch what you say, how you say it, and what your body is doing when you say it! 

      7 ½.Remember, no one is perfect – You won’t always handle conflict in the best way possible.  Do your best and remember that workplace conflict is normal and isn’t something to be avoided or feared.   

 Conflict is the alternative to groupthink and if you ask me, I’d rather have conflict.  What do you think?

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