Can Conflict in the Workplace be Beneficial for Business?
Conflict in the workplace can’t really be avoided; we are all human with differing thoughts, ideas, personalities, and values. It can actually be highly beneficial if managed in a positive and safe environment. While you can try and avoid conflict, you can’t escape it. Conflicts are inevitable in a person’s day-to-day life. And when they happen, the idea is not to try to prevent them but rather to manage them in an effective manner.
So, what causes conflict in the workplace?
To effectively manage conflict in the workplace, you need to understand the common causes and reasons behind them. Some common causes of conflict can be differing work styles between employees, disagreements or changes in leadership, and differing personality traits or cultural backgrounds.
Trish Purnell-Webb, a Clinical Psychologist, Master Trainer and Consultant for the Gottman Institute in Australia, says, “Humans are humans – we all have different personalities, ideas, thoughts, values, beliefs and morals, so conflict is inevitable”. If it’s not about something to do within the workplace, it will be a personality clash, and while it can be disruptive, it can also help a business grow if handled properly. Creating an environment where conflict is allowed with some safety around it so that employees can take their concern to somebody who will help mediate is going to help with conflict in the workplace.
According to John Flanagan, Mental Health Accredited Social Worker, Master Trainer and Consultant for the Gottman Institute in Australia says, “we can see conflict in the workplace as actually highly beneficial. It’s like the irritant in the oyster that creates the pearl. So, conflict is absolutely required. But it’s the way in which conflict occurs in the workplace”. John explains there needs to be a culture of feedback, e.g., “I respect your view. Still, I have a different one”, and if the organisation doesn’t encourage this sort of environment, then the conflict can become stuck or escalated, and that’s when it becomes a real problem.
Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity and can make cooperation and collaboration complicated. Developing practical conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component for a business, and most importantly, good conflict resolution ability equals good employee retention. Employees who feel respected are more likely to speak up early when there are issues to be resolved before they cause disruptions.
By working through problems in a healthy way, the team gains confidence in their work environment and with each other, promoting future communication. All while decreasing turnover rates, absenteeism, and termination.
Trish and John’s tips on ways to help with conflict in the workplace:
- Often, people will feel anxious about raising an issue, resulting in a harsh delivery or attack. Think before you speak – write it down, and practise before you raise an issue at work.
- When raising an issue, think about, “is there any part of this issue that I contribute to?” If you can take responsibility for some of the problem, it will make the delivery of the issue gentler.
- Skill employees up – teach them ‘I’ language expressions, where they talk about their own feelings about a situation rather than describing the person involved. Encourage them to come to the meeting with a solution rather than just complaining about the problem.
- Management needs to encourage difference in how issues are raised, and the type of issues presented. But also difference in people they hire, so the notion of difference, organisationally and culturally, is led from the top and the bottom.
- Learn to LISTEN to each other. You’ll get heard better if you listen first, and listening is more than just hearing, it’s also about demonstrating your understanding of what you have heard through reflection, validation and if appropriate expressions of empathy.
- Remember that people don’t change until they feel fundamentally accepted for who they are.
Conflict isn’t always something to fear, because out of conflict comes change. When resolved properly, conflicts can lead to better ideas, better understanding, and better working relationships.