Does your team embrace conflict?

For many us, we were taught in our family dynamic, in grade schools, in universities, and in our early careers that conflict was something to be avoided. Our educators and influencers did their best to prepare working professionals for success by teaching skills of following directions and falling into line, both of which were important keys to a steady paycheck in the post-revolution economy.  It’s true that in the old-world way of doing business, conflicting feedback from the workforce tended to slow down productivity and in top-down leadership models, made everyone’s work lives more stressful. 

But business is changing rapidly, and the economy of ideas is rising to dominance. A new paradigm for success as a company and as an individual business professional requires a collaborative process for stepping out of line to voice viewpoints and observations. But many employees, managers, and leaders lack the training and experience to be able to capitalize on the new cultural norm in business. For many companies, internal conflict among teams is overflowing but unrestrained. It’s conflict at its worst, destructive, and costly. 

A lot of attention (and budget) is focused on learning how to resolve workplace conflict. Robyn Short, conflict specialist and mediator, reports that $359 billion in paid hours (2.1 hours weekly) is wasted each year in the US on resolving or managing conflict. 

While there is a place for those skills in the workplace, it’s our position that the best way to handle conflict is to embrace it. Doing so enhances a company’s ability to capture opportunities born from conflict, as well as help them achieve growth goals and higher performance among the workforce. Frankly, welcoming conflict with open arms helps move a company toward a sustainable operative process needed to compete in the future marketplace.

If you’ve just begun to retool your system for dealing with conflict, you might be asking yourself if it’s really possible for your team to change the lens on conflict to see and harness opportunities. The answer is YES. It’s going to take some work and commitment, but it can be done. 


Learn to Face and Embrace Conflict

One reason conflict seems to leave a big mess behind is because most people don’t like to confront the “elephant” in the room. People generally run from conflict rather than confront it, which leads to internalizing and personalizing negative feelings. You can actually remove the negativity that conflict causes by getting comfortable acknowledging conflict and normalizing its presence. Besides openly discussing the conflict in your own organization, you can discuss how other companies have harnessed this productive conflict strategy. There are a growing number of companies that openly share their strategies which include conflict as an asset. Contact us if you need great examples! 

Talk about the alternative to productive conflict,  conflict resolution, and distinguish productive conflict as the path forward. Explain how conflict “resolution” steps might de-escalate volatile behavior, but actually resolves nothing,  and people are often left feeling even worse. Also, let everybody know they’re not alone in the adaptation process. Every person can benefit from learning more effective ways to leverage conflict toward positive results. Assure your team that you’re all learning the skills for effective and productive conflict as well as how to form a new attitude about conflict’s merits. Then make it happen.


Get Out of the “You’re Wrong; I’m Right” Mentality

People withhold information and ideas for fear of being labeled “wrong”. Remove the stigma, and open the doors for free-flowing communication. Help your team move out of personal identification of being right or wrong by discussing the idea of multiple perspectives and safety in expressing those perspectives. Your team needs to understand that your company views more perspectives as an asset. 

Encourage the open flow of ideas by thanking contributors when they relay information. Set an example for the way team members should receive the ideas of others. Don’t punish people, chastise, or tease people when they’re expressing different ideas or concerns. Practice pointing out problems in group discussions objectively, without personal attack, and make this the standard for all team members. No one is wrong when everyone is moving toward a goal you all agree on. 


Keep the Focus on Solving Problems While Building Relationships

Offer incentives and celebrate when teams accomplish problem-solving goals. Whenever your team has goal-setting meetings, identify conflict and the strength of team relationships as two essentials for reaching those goals. If employees understand that conflicting viewpoints are welcome and contribute to better relationships,  in addition to higher productivity, they’ll be less likely to suppress dissenting ideas where they’ll smolder in negativity. 

Put systems in place for making decisions when conflict occurs and get everyone’s buy-in about the process. Studies show, cohesiveness greatly increases when people feel like they’re a part of the decision-making process, even if the decision isn’t always in their favor. With the help of your team, create systems to collect feedback in a variety of ways and determine who will ultimately make the call. 

Give it a try!

If you’re reading this article and your workplace is riddled with toxic conflict and departmental silos, you might feel pretty far away from a breakthrough. A turning point lays ahead if your team can begin to see opportunity in conflict even a little bit. From there, more light gathers, and before you know it, you’ve found a way out of negativity for the long term. 

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