Conflict In The Workplace

Woman in panel giving advice

Some people are great at avoiding conflict in the workplace. All you need to do is keep your mouth shut or yield to the strongest voice in the room. However you may be justifying your silence, passivity or lack of engagement, I want you to consider how damaging that behavior is for both you and your team. I also hope to give you some simple, practical suggestions for becoming a healthier, engaged fighter.

Conflict in the workplace is risky. I get that. It makes us uncomfortable, tense and our emotions can flare. But what should we expect from passionate teammates who are all fighting for outcomes that matter a lot? When we work with intelligent, creative, passionate people, we’re bound to have occasions when we see things differently. Conflict in the workplace is not only unavoidable in a growing, healthy organization, but it’s also essential!

Conflict Helps You Become Your Best

Your team will never become its best without conflict. The BEST answer to almost every issue you face will be a composite of the creativity and knowledge of the various players on your team. If you aren’t contributing anything to those best answers by opening your mouth and sharing your insights – as risky as that might feel – you are doing your team a great disservice.

Here are five suggestions for healthier conflict in the workplace, and these come from lots of personal experiences – good and bad.

  • Face it. You’re not that smart. If you are human and you speak, you will say something stupid. It’s going to happen. Set your ego aside, share your thoughts freely and be equally open to considering thoughts from your teammates. None of us have all the answers, and if you do, you need to surround yourself with new people who are smarter than you. To get to the truly great answers, we need to collaborate and mix it up with some great, passionate fighters.
  • Welcome statements that are raw and less polished. Establish a “just say it” rule for your team. Propose something even when you know there may be significant flaws in your thinking. That’s okay. Someone has to be bold enough to put something on the table that the team can react to, refine, and perfect. Your proposal sets the stage for counter-proposals that shape a better solution. So just say it!
  • As soon as it becomes about you, your team is going to suffer. Self-interest leads to defensive, combative, destructive behavior, so all dialogue must keep the greater good of the whole team in constant view.
  • Attack the issue, never each other. Focus on resolving the root cause behind each issue. Even when the issue concerns someone’s behavior, identify the root cause behind the behavior and focus on resolving that.
  • Take a break. When you get stuck or tempers have flared and it seems like you’re at an impasse, step away from each other and the issue for a short time, cool down, consider everything you’ve heard and then come back to see if the answer comes to the surface. Sometimes it’s just a 10-minute break, sometimes a day or two. Just let it settle a while, and the answer will come.

The good fruit that comes from healthy conflict in the workplace is worth all the risk and personal discomfort. Commit to being better fighters and see how that produces a healthier, more prosperous team.

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