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What Kind of Conflict is Occurring in Your Organization?

Is it Positive or Negative?

Conflict is a common occurrence within the workplace and in our personal lives. We often see conflict as a negative, but it doesn’t need to be! People are inherently different and conflict happens when those differences come to light. Conflicts enable for opportunities and viewing issues from a different perspective. When we remember that we are all unique and see things differently based on a variety of experiences, we tend to view conflict more positively and as an opportunity.

There are a number of benefits to conflict in the workplace, including:

  • Motivating individuals to perform better. (When in conflict, our talent, skills and natural abilities often come out.)
  • Creativity and innovation in new products, services, and how we solve organizational problems.
  • Continuous improvement. When we have conflict, we push for better ways to get the work done; challenging the status quo.

When conflict is happening in the workplace, and it is done well, it is obvious that people care and they are engaged. When we are no longer engaged, we don’t care enough to challenge something and end up not entering into conflict. We just accept that status quo.

Of course, conflict can be dysfunctional. When it is, it is negative. If you see any of the following happening, the conflict is negative and can be damaging to long term relationships:

  • Employees promote their own interests or push for personal gains at the expense of the good of the organization or the team.
  • Employees argue in a way that is personal – attacking another person. (e.g., “You’re an idiot.”)
  • Employees sabotage the effort of others and/or create problems with morale.

Negative customer service, declines in market share and reduced productivity. All of which directly impacts the bottom line.

In order to move from a negative view of conflict to a more positive view of conflict, it is important for leaders to demonstrate and encourage good conflict behaviors and actions.

Demonstrating and Encouraging Good Conflict

As a leader in the organization, take these steps to demonstrate and encourage good conflict behavior and actions:

  • During meetings, encourage people to poke holes in ideas presented. Throw out an idea and ask participants to improve upon it. Don’t accept comments such as, “I like it as it is,” or “Sounds good.”
  • When pulling together teams to work on special initiatives, be sure that the members come from a variety of backgrounds, with different experiences, skills and knowledge. Ask them to develop something innovative and creative.
  • Set the stage for good conflict yourself by playing the devil’s advocate during team meetings. If you find that the team is not pushing back on each other during problem solving sessions, stir the pot a little.

Train your employees in how to work through conflict and also in how to recognize good conflict from negative conflict. The goal is to increase your employees’ comfort level with getting into conflict and understanding when they are moving from good conflict to negative conflict. With this understanding, you will spend less time intervening in conflict situations with your employees. You’ll also find that employees are more innovative and creative and collaborate well, engaging with each other to move the department or workgroup forward.

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