Why We Need Conflict in the Workplace, Handled Well – and 3 Tips for Constructive Disagreements
November 16, 2021

Many of us find conflict stressful and hard work.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if those workplace conflicts just weren’t there?

Or would it….?

Teams with no disagreements can feel stagnant

A workplace without conflict

Let’s think that through for a moment.  

Imagine your workplace.  What if there were no conflict in your team?  What would that look like?  What would it feel like?

The dynamic is peaceful. No disagreements. Everyone’s personal style is aligned.  No clashes.  No opposing views.  

Hmm. No opposing views? Are we sure that’s really what we want?

Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas

Donatella Versace

Group Thinking Traps

In Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed demonstrated why having a team who don’t have opposing views and perspectives isn’t a great result.  

An intelligent individual
An un-intelligent team (of clones)
An intelligent team (of rebel thinkers)

Constructive disagreements

Without differing views and perspectives, i.e. without views and perspectives that conflict with each other, you may end up with a team of clones.  This matters, because we need cognitive diversity to strengthen our business.  

We want disagreement.  But we want constructive disagreement.  It’s important to be able to share opposing, conflicting views, without erupting into harmful conflict.  

We need constructive rather than destructive disagreements

Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s how we handle it that makes the difference.  Will it be destructive or constructive?

Conflict is good in a negotiation process. It’s the clash of two ideas which then, all being well, produces a third idea

Luke Roberts

Responding in a considered way, rather than knee-jerk reactions

We may not be instinctively great at managing conflict.  We may go quickly into a fight or flight mode.  But we don’t have to stay in that state.

ACAS refer to ‘conflict competence’, which is our conflict handling skills. Like other skill sets, they can be developed and honed.

Tips for managing your immediate response include regulating your breathing and, taking our lead from Marcus Aurelius, practising distanced self-talk. 

Jaw, jaw – or war war?

There are also adjustments in our HR processes that can facilitate dialogue and encourage staff to exchange differing perspectives.  Do your staff have the opportunity to express views in a psychologically safe space? Do they feel heard?  

3 practical steps to manage workplace conflict better

We want to hear and use different perspectives

Remembering that we want disagreements, here are three ways to open up the space for those to take place constructively:

  1. Enhance conflict competence through training and coaching for leaders, managers, teams, staff to empower them to manage disagreements constructively
  2. Ensure that your processes are focused on resolution and dialogue; on opening up the space for dialogue and ensuring there are opportunities for staff to voice their opinions and ideas.  
  3. Add a mediation clause in your contract: conflicts and disagreements are inevitable, and we commit to resolve those through dialogue and mediation as the primary response.  That could save thousands in legal fees alone.

Contact us to talk more about how to strengthen your business by ensuring that differing perspectives can be shared.

Dialogue is the most effective way of resolving conflict

Dalai Lama

Philippa Brown

A CEDR-accredited mediator, Pip founded Conflict Insights and now uses the experience and skills she developed working in international conflict environments to reduce the negative effects of conflicts closer to home.