5 Reasons to Embrace Conflict in the Workplace
Struggling to resolve a conflict in the workplace?
Embrace Workplace Conflicts
Do you enjoy conflict?
Do you wake up in the morning hopeful that some disagreement or frustration will find you before lunch?
If so, you are unique.
For the majority of humans, embracing conflict sounds as comfortable as hugging a porcupine.
The natural human responses to conflict are Fight or Flight.
Most people are wired internally to either avoid conflict at all costs or go on the attack at the slightest provocation.
Conflict occurs when an individual’s goals or desires are denied or frustrated by another individual or group.
Same goes for workplace conflicts. Meet Tom:
Tom never cleans up his messes. He leaves trash in the breakroom; he leaves cardboard and plastic on the warehouse floor. He’s sloppy and forgetful.
Co-workers have addressed this with him before, simply asking him to take care of his own trash, but nothing changes. They come to believe that Tom doesn’t care enough to solve the problem.
He develops a reputation for laziness and selfishness.
Outside of this issue, Tom is a good worker. He’s on time, productive, and compliant. But his co-workers are tired of picking up after him. Conflict is present.
The path of least resistance tempts the manager, Laura, to ignore it (flight). She tells herself it’s not a problem. It will blow over.
It’s not worth an argument or getting tough with anyone (fight).
What the manager may miss in this scenario is the opportunity this conflict presents.
If she wants to build a healthy, happy workplace environment for everyone, what’s the best move?
What if embracing the conflict can improve the environment for everyone?
It will take some self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Some of the soft skills you need to know, but anyone can do it.
Let’s look at 5 reasons to embrace conflicts in the workplace:
1. Healthy Conflict Creates Understanding
Conflict often arises from a gap in understanding.
Tom from our scenario above is a fictional person, but let’s get to know him better.
Laura calls him in for a conversation. Instead of attacking, she decides to be curious about Tom. She asks questions.
In the process, she learns that Tom lives at home with his mom. She packs his lunch every day. She has dinner waiting for him every evening.
It doesn’t take an intuitive genius to guess that she probably cleans up after him as well.
The manager surmises that Tom is not intentionally leaving messes for his co-workers.
He may have never been given the responsibility to clean up after himself. Laura could not have gained this understanding by avoiding the problem or attacking Tom.
Her curiosity pays off.
Next, she speaks with the other workers on Tom’s shift who are frustrated with him.
She learns that they like Tom. But cleaning up his messes causes these employees to get behind on their own work, often staying late to finish.
Hence causing conflicts in the workplace.
2. Healthy Conflict Builds Trust
Increased understanding translates directly into greater trust.
Because Laura displayed curiosity about Tom, he believes she now sees him as a real person.
He wasn’t sure about that before.
He opens up and shares that he feels terrible for upsetting his co-workers. He wants to make it right, but he’s not sure how to do it.
Now that has convinced Tom she understands, he trusts her to help him move forward.
Tom’s co-workers open up to Laura as well, sharing that some basic cleaning and safety protocols are being neglected.
Lack of trust is rooted in a lack of understanding.
People will not trust a leader in their business who doesn’t know them or appears detached.
This is an argument for more time on the floor with employees talking about work, processes, values, and life. Thus, creating a team feeling.
- Related: 8 ideas for employee engagement.
3. Healthy Conflict Solves Problems
Once trust is established, solutions follow.
Tom opens up to Laura and she listens, earning his trust.
She earns the trust of the frustrated workers as well. She follows up with a crucial question: “How can I help?”
Tom’s answer: “I don’t know.” Honest. Not helpful.
Tom’s Co-workers: A few ideas emerge, but the one that receives the most traction involves someone taking some time to show Tom how to leave less mess and clean up effectively.
After more discussion around this possibility, Jeff volunteers to work with Tom for two weeks at their workplace. Three other coworkers in the group agree to share Jeff’s responsibilities while he spends time with Tom.
Laura communicates the idea to Tom. He is willing and grateful.
In high-trust environments, a group of people can create solutions with little guidance from management and their business.
The first idea may not work.
However, the employees involved now have the tools they need to regroup and try again.
4. Healthy Conflict Produces Peace
Solutions pave the way for peace.
The process of solving a problem and moving forward brings unity to a group at the workplace.
During the two weeks that Tom and Jeff work together, the two get to know each other.
Tom respects Jeff’s discipline and organizational skills. Jeff realizes that Tom cares about his work and wants to do it well. The others enjoy a respite from cleaning up after Tom. A small but noticeable shift occurs in the atmosphere.
There is less tension and more friendly chatter.
An environment of peace does not eliminate conflict, but in fact, sets the stage for the next one.
Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the result of a healthy approach to conflict.
5. Healthy Workplace Conflicts Develops Leaders
The process equips everyone involved for stronger leadership.
Every character in the fable about Tom and Laura learns something that raises their social and emotional I.Q.
Laura grows as a manager, prepared to tackle future challenges with confidence.
Jeff may be a candidate for leadership development.
Healthy conflict management challenges everyone involved to face an uncomfortable situation and work through it.
Those with leadership skills will grow. A spotlight will shine on those with leadership potential.
A wise manager will follow through appropriately.
The fictional workplace story used here does not accurately reflect real life.
Sometimes, the conflict will get messy. Some employees will not cooperate.
Despite the risks, good leaders see in every conflict an opportunity for understanding, trust, and peace to increase.
The nuts and bolts of healthy conflict management and resolution look different for each employee and each business.
But there are a few basic practices that work for nearly all employees and teams.
1. Stay Calm. Angry people rarely find peace. If necessary, take time to evaluate and tend to emotions before engaging.
2. Be Curious. We will struggle to overcome a gap in understanding unless we develop curiosity. Wondering why a person thinks or acts a certain way is normal. Asking these questions aloud is courageous. Communication is key.
3. Think Positive. People who believe a workable solution is possible usually find one. And Positivity is contagious.
When these practices form a habitual approach, we can embrace conflict because we know it leads to progress.
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