You already know this firsthand: even the best relationships experience conflict. While it may seem advisable to aspire to a conflict-free work environment, it’s unrealistic. At the same time, healthy conflict in the workplace can bring positive outcomes. Consider these ways in which disagreements at work can benefit your business.
As the Harvard Business Review‘s (HBR) Amy Gallo writes, “You might dream of working in a peaceful utopia, but it wouldn’t be good for your company, your work, or you.” That’s because there are many advantages you could miss out on.
1. Creative friction can inspire solutions
“Conflict is uncomfortable, but it is the source of true innovation, and [is] also a critical process in identifying and mitigating risks,” Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done, told HBR.
Through conflict, teams can:
- Incorporate diverse perspectives
- Process difficult situations
- Explore pros and cons of various outcomes
- Reach consensus, which can improve change management
- Identify the best solution
2, Disagreements are an opportunity to learn and grow
Individuals who have to defend their position or challenge another’s ideas in a professional manner are practicing effective communication. Each person needs to listen actively and speak respectfully. These skills translate well to external business interactions as well.
Healthy conflict could also prompt individual reflection. Conflict resolution can encourage involved parties to:
- Think of new approaches to a problem and different ways to act when challenged
- Recognize there is more than one way of looking at a situation
- Change their perspective on people or issues
- Explore ways to prevent conflict and collaborate more in the future
It all helps build a more resilient and less fearful individual who can be more flexible in the future.
3. Conflict can bring people closer
It doesn’t feel like this when you’re in the thick of it, but successfully working through conflict can help connect people. Through the process of resolving conflict, the opposing parties come to better understand one another. They learn how different people prefer to communicate and work, and are able to collaborate better in the future as a result.
Making consensus and avoiding conflict a primary goal can also stifle diversity. In “Diversity’s New Frontier: Diversity of Thought,” the authors suggest managers and employees need to abandon “the idea that consensus is an end in and of itself. In a well-run diverse team, substantive disagreements do not need to become personal: Ideas either have merit and posits of connection or they do not.”
4. Freedom to have opinions and disagree can enhance satisfaction
In a study by Nate Regier, author of Conflict without Casualties, 64% of the 400 people surveyed said they would compromise rather than argue for their preferred approach to avoid conflict. But that’s not always for the best. That compromise could mean the better approach gets overlooked. Plus, people will feel frustrated that they are self-censoring their perspective even to the detriment of business goals.
Instead of feeling anxious and people-pleasing all the time at work, people who expect a little conflict at work should let go of the need to be liked. Of course, you don’t want people to go around being arrogantly opinionated, and refusing to listen to anyone else. But when people can respectfully disagree and remain supportive of one another, it can make for a much more pleasant workplace.
It’s all about taking a compassionate approach to one another. People who feel like they can have their own opinions are more likely to feel free to raise new ideas. This helps people feel heard at work, which lets them feel more invested as participants and enhances their engagement.
5. Conflict can signify bigger process issues
Earlier in this series, we looked at some of the root causes of conflict in the workplace. Looking at the objectives or processes that prompted disagreements in the first place could help a business to identify shortcomings. Business guidelines may be unclear. Processes could be causing duplicate or overlapping work.
Or, perhaps work-life balance is out of whack for a team. This could manifest in an isolated conflict, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t also suffering. Recognizing the bigger issue and working to remedy that can not only help resolve the conflict, but position you for better employee retention and business results.
Finding the opportunity in conflict
One way to view conflict in the workplace? As a sign that your people genuinely care. They are passionate enough about that project or their point of view to fight for their perspective. That’s ultimately a good thing.
It can breed innovation, improve collaboration, and nurture a community. While there are numerous causes of conflict in the workplace, there is no doubt that it also offers an opportunity. Even so, this is best leveraged in how we manage and resolve conflicts. It’s very easy for a conflict to spiral out of hand. But by understanding the benefits that conflict brings, we have a chance to focus on constructive and positive outcomes.
In Nonflict: The Art of Everyday Peacemaking, coauthor Stephen Hecht writes, “conflict is when two different ideas come into contact with each other…If you deal with conflict in a constructive way, there is opportunity.” This series has addressed how an individual and how managers can address conflict more effectively. Taken together, we hope this four-part examination of conflict helps your business give everyone a voice.
To hear directly from your employees, partner with Sogolytics to customize employee experience tools that give you the insights you need.