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Transforming Tension: How to Embrace the Benefits of Workplace Conflict

by | Apr 29, 2024 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye, powerful phrases |

Avoiding workplace conflict makes for stagnant organizations where problems fester

No one needs destructive, anger-fueled conflict at work. It’s corrosive and makes work miserable. But there’s another kind of workplace conflict that’s not only vital for a vibrant culture, but this kind of productive workplace conflict is also  the fuel for innovation, quality of life, and the better workplace today’s teams crave.

Who Wants More Conflict at Work?

In our World Workplace Conflict and Collaboration Survey we asked over 5000 people in 45+ countries about their experiences with workplace conflict. 70% of respondents said they’re experiencing the same or more conflict at work than just a few years ago.

But when you look into the 30% who say they have less conflict at work, half of those say the reason they’re experiencing less conflict is that they’ve hit the escape button. They said left a conflict-prone workplace. They told us they’re working from home and avoiding people.workplace conflict

And that might sound good—after all, who wants more conflict at work? Well, the answer is—we should all want…if not more, at least better, conflict at work.

To see why, let’s dive a little deeper into another question. We asked about the consequences of conflict at work. And many of the negative consequences you would expect were top of mind: stress (55%), employees leaving (33%), reduced productivity (30%).

But also on the list of consequences were:

  • Improved quality of work (12%)
  • Positive policy change (10%)
  • More innovation or creativity (8%)

And these are just a few of the reasons you might need more conflict, not less, in your workplace.

4 Benefits of Workplace Conflict

One way to look at workplace is that the question isn’t ultimately about the quantity of conflict, it’s about what kind of conflict you have.

Most of the time, when people think of conflict, they immediately think of intense argument resulting in anger at one another, the silent treatment, or other forms of social violence (like shunning, discrimination, or harassment).

But with the right tools, conflict can also produce a much more pleasant workplace that’s more inclusive and does a better job serving its clients or customers.

Here are just a few benefits of productive workplace conflict:

1. Improved Workplace

Think about the values that guide your workplace. No matter what those values are, the values will conflict with one another at some point. Radical flexibility might come up against serving the customer with excellence. Now what?

These are productive conflict conversations that every high-performing culture will explore. As you have these conversations, you and your team can act more often in alignment with your values. You can change policies that don’t align with your values.

And you’ll have better relationship because trust is built on connection, credibility, reliability, and knowing that you have one another’s best interest at heart. Meaningful conversations that explore different perspectives and approaches improve all of these relationship-building attributes

Here are 12 Powerful Phrases to help your team genuinely connect and increase understanding.

2. More (and more effective) Solutions

When you and your team can safely challenge one another’s assumptions, you open yourself to a much larger and meaningful source of answers to your problems.

Your first solution is almost never as good as it could be with some exploration, revision, and poking holes. Invite the conflict – ask people to challenge your thinking. Show you what you haven’t considered. And create better solutions together.

Here are 12 Powerful Phrases to help your team show up with more curiosity.

3. Smarter Teams

Expectation violations are one of the biggest sources of workplace conflict. Each of us have understandings of the way the world works and we put those assumptions on other people. And of course, they won’t live up to them. How could they? They don’t even know the expectation exists.

Sometimes YOU don’t even know you have the expectation until somebody violates it.

Digging deeper when expectation violations hit will increase clarity. Actively seeking different perspectives helps you view problems from many directions and make more efficient and meaningful choices.

Speaking up with the information that only you have gives others a chance to make smarter, more informed decisions.

All that increased clarity makes everyone smarter.

Here are 12 Powerful Phrases to help your team invest in greater clarity.

4. Better Work

Combine those first three benefits of a better workplace, more solutions, and smarter teams and you can’t help but do better work.

Building trusted relationships, examining how you’re doing your work, and creating freedom to evaluate what doesn’t make sense gives everyone a chance to reduce waste, decrease avoidable employee turnover, and eliminate unintentionally destructive systems that undermine your culture.

Here are 12 Powerful Phrases to help your team create and keep meaningful agreements.

Make Me Smarter

If, despite all these benefits, you still hesitate to approach conflict situations with curiosity, or worry about “losing” to someone else’s perspective,  one way to overcome your hesitation is to focus on getting smarter.

What if you approached every disagreement as an opportunity to become smarter? Instead of looking at your colleague, boss, or team member as an obstacle, what if, instead, you asked them to make you smarter?

You might not say the words aloud (though you certainly could if you have a good relationship) but entering the conversation with the assumption that the other person has something that will make you smarter is a powerful way to sidestep that troublesome insistence on being right.

Your Turn

These are just a few of the benefits of productive workplace conflict.

We’d love to hear from you: What would you add? Have you been part of a conflict that you are grateful for? What made it productive?

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

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