While conflict is generally viewed as a negative term, there are some types of conflict that should be welcome within the workplace. Conflict is a natural reaction, especially in work groups where there are differing personalities, but conflict isn’t always bad.
In some cases, conflict can be friendly. For example, a conflict may occur when one employee feels he has a better idea or plan than another, or if he feels the other person’s idea is flawed. They must then challenge each other in order to come to a final resolution. Without this type of conflict, a business might suffer.
Believe it or not, I implore you to try encouraging conflict, at least on a low level. With that in mind, here are three things you should keep in mind as conflicts arise in your workplace.
Recognize those who are brave enough to take a stand. A while back we talked about something known as the spiral of silence, in which employees are afraid to take a stand and voice their opinions. This is a method of conflict avoidance, but in some cases this type of conflict should NOT be avoided. Make sure you thank people who make contributions to discussions, especially if they are supporting a specific cause or position and regardless of the outcome. Professional courage and dedication is an appropriate form of conflict.
Make it OK to disagree. As a manager, are you asking your employees for their opinions or are you asking them to validate your ideas. Sometimes managers tend to formulate plans, ask for opinions, and then ignore the responses they receive. Their actions and attitudes tell their team members that’s it’s really not OK to disagree and, therefore, no one does so. Make sure you are supporting your words with your actions and attitudes. Don’t look down on the criticism you receive, positive or negative.
Support differing opinions. It’s OK to have differing opinions within a workgroup, but the way to prevent those opinions from turning into a negative form of conflict is to ask your employees to back them up with cold hard facts. Being forced to collect data will encourage your employees to remain competitive with teach other without letting their personal opinions drive their arguments. If they have the facts to support their opinions you’ll be able to work through the conflict at hand.
A little conflict in the workplace never hurt anyone, but it’s most productive when it’s friendly and controlled, thus enabling you to find the best ways for dealing with complaints. Are you fostering positive conflict within your work environment?
Originally published: 19 December, 2008