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Resolving conflict: Conflict as a positive force in the workplace

March 29, 2018

Workplace Culture

We’ve all had moments in our working lives when we've fallen out with a colleague, with each of us taking what seem like diametrically opposed and immovable positions over some issue or other.

Such conflicts happen all the time, its a natural part of the human condition. Conflict is absolutely normal. Not only that, but when treated correctly, it can be turned into a positive force in the workplace. First, we need to understand what creates the conflict, then we can better understand how to harness the natural energy it brings, and use if for change. Its important to remember that all the best organisations benefit from conflict.

At the end of the day, we’re humans. We’re all different and we all come from differing viewpoints. That diversity, of course, is to be celebrated, particularly in business. Sometimes that is the root of the conflict.

The world of work continues to grow increasingly more diverse. Conflict could arise from a simple difference in age, gender or personality, like we see in the eternal Baby Boomers vs Millennials debate.

At its heart is a disagreement over how or why things are done, and an idea that there could be a better way forward. Those disagreements need to happen. They’re a good thing. At least, they are when managed well. Its certainly important to encourage an open and honest communication culture in any workplace, where people feel empowered to speak up and engage. Through conflict, we can develop, innovate and learn. Better to have a team who question things, provoking discussion and debate in the search of a better way, than a team of flunkies who nod begrudgingly and simply carry out tasks to get them through to the next payday. Have the debate and manage the conflict.

Unchecked conflict though, is massively negative. It costs money and time, lowers the morale of the whole team and is counter-productive.

Priorities get lost in the fallout. The longer it remains unresolved, the deeper and broader the damage it does. Emotions become tangled and everything becomes personal, and its a huge drain on the whole team. The trick is to get in there before the conflict develops into this unruly and unwelcome beast, and to work out a way to manage resolution in a way that benefits everyone. 

Often, its simply a case of helping all parties to see the subject from the others’ perspective and getting them to understand why a colleague feels a certain way. Its about creating trust, eliminating blame and encouraging an open and positive dialogue. Simply put, its good to talk. Bringing the two ‘warring parties’ together, and engaging them in a calm and controlled discussion is the first step. Encouraging each to make their point without interruption and to identify exactly what they perceive is the root of the problem will empower and engage both sides to see that negotiation is the way forward. From there, they can agree a plan for the future which includes the open communication we know to be so important. This will help prevent future conflict.

Resolution can always be found through finding common ground and agreeing a way forward for all parties. Compromise, focus on common goals and removing ego from the equation will all help resolve the conflict if the will is there. By encouraging the debate, and engaging team members in discussion, we’re able to turn a negative into a positive, for the benefit of the team, the business, and an easier life for all. Team motivation, as always, should be top of the agenda.

This article is part of our larger guide all about Team Management

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