Workplace Conflict Can be Healthy

John Krautzel
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Workplace conflict is an inevitable part of bringing diverse groups together, and choosing to manage disagreements rather than suppress them can improve results throughout your company. Clashing opinions are a sign that employees are passionate about issues affecting their work environment, creating an opportunity to explore better solutions. Avoid taking a negative view of workplace conflict, and use it to foster a healthy culture where employees aren't afraid to share differing ideas.

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Conflict

Friction happens in workplaces every day when employees disagree with company policies, feel slighted by co-workers or get overwhelmed with extra work. However, many people steer clear of confrontation because they're uncomfortable dealing with workplace conflict or afraid of escalating the problem. Avoidance is rarely a permanent solution, as hurt feelings and tension continue to grow when employees hold in their frustrations or act out in subversive ways.

Suppressed workplace conflict is even more damaging when senior management is the main source of opposition. Employees who are always fearful of being penalized or ostracized for speaking up lose trust in company leaders and become conditioned to value agreeability over creativity. On the other hand, encouraging employees to work through differences by focusing on shared goals may help your team solve problems that could have been completely overlooked.

The Benefits of Healthy Workplace Conflict

Everyone has unique perceptual judgment based on beliefs and experiences, so conflict is a natural product of pitting one limited viewpoint against another. In a company of "yes" people, teams finalize decisions without investigating deeper issues, maintaining the status quo. Healthy disagreements are meaningful and constructive, creating an exchange of ideas that gives everyone a more complete picture of the problem and a reasonable course of action. Employees want to feel appreciated and heard, but they may not recognize the flaws in their own thought process until they listen to ideas from other people.

Employees who confront workplace conflict can also drive organizational improvement by clarifying procedures or obligations that are causing discord. If one department is shouldering a disproportionate amount of work, communicating about these issues is the only way to determine whether the company should hire more people or restructure existing roles.

Building Constructive Conflict Into the Culture

If your company wants to nurture healthy workplace conflict, treat honesty and open-mindedness as assets. Employees don't want to speak up if they don't expect to get any support, especially if being outspoken threatens their success at work. Give all employees a voice, and publicly praise them for sharing honest opinions. Keeping employees involved in key decision-making builds trust, motivating your team to support the end goal even when you can't implement their ideas.

At the same time, set standards of communication to prevent disputes from becoming negative. Encourage people to back up their opinions with solid facts and evidence, rather than making empty complaints and accusations. When mutual accountability is the norm, employees are more likely to bond over their similarities and develop flexibility, putting aside differences to solve problems.

Well-managed workplace conflict can be a springboard for creativity and innovation, but only if disagreements stem from good intentions. Protect your company from divisive conflicts by removing team members who reject compromise and recruiting new employees who care about the company's mission.

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