3 Ways Conflict Will Improve Your Job
And why avoiding it can be soul-crushing and productivity-zapping.
Many of us were taught through behaviors modeled — perhaps by our parents, family members, bosses, and/or leaders — that being agreeable is important — especially at work.
Get along with your colleagues.
Don’t shut ideas down.
Don’t disagree with someone above your pay grade.
Try not to be the “squeaky wheel”.
Which means: we’re essentially taught that it’s better to ignore a problem and let resentment build than to address it directly and be seen as impolite and, therefore, unprofessional.
(Cue emphatic sigh.)
Luckily, things are changing. We’ve all (hopefully) seen it — if not in our own workplaces, then in case studies of companies who are, slowly but surely, getting it right when it comes to culture. Companies are finally prioritizing intentional inclusivity: talent with diverse backgrounds, unique life experiences, and (gasp!) conflicting opinions actually make the workplace stronger, sharper, and more capable of adapting to change.
Not convinced? Read on.
Here are 3 ways that addressing conflict in a direct, healthy way can improve your work environment:
1. Spark creativity & innovation.
Openly addressing conflict in the workplace is often how the most innovative ideas are born. If everyone in the room is so hellbent on being polite above all else, then no one is going to want to disagree, point out potential issues, or offer up a risky, creative thought.
When your employees or coworkers feel comfortable speaking up and saying, “I hear you, but we’re not considering XYZ with that plan,” or, “Based on my experience, dealing with the client this way would yield better results,” you’ll come out of the meeting or brainstorming session with an idea that’s actually been examined and refined, instead of ending up with the first idea even if it wasn’t great.
2. Build trust.
People need to feel trusted and respected at work, and they need to trust and respect their leaders in turn.
Imagine that whenever there’s a conflict at work, it’s either swept under the rug and never discussed, or it results in blame, finger-pointing, and resentment. You’re not going to trust your coworkers or your leaders to be able to deal with conflict or dissent in the future, so you’re never going to speak up.
That, my friends, is a formula for disaster.
Conflict is going to happen. It is inevitable. No matter how well you design your processes and how carefully you try to match personalities at work, conflict will happen.
Trusting someone enough to take a risk and address conflict head-on also shows that you have an enormous amount of respect for them. (Bonus: by trying to understand your own conflict management style and the style(s) of your colleagues, you’re on the fast track for conflict management success.)
By avoiding conflict, you’re communicating that you don’t trust the other person (or yourself) to address it in a healthy way, and that you don’t respect your relationship enough to do the hard work to make it better.
3. Develop psychologically safe spaces.
In a psychologically safe workplace, people can depend on others to get their work done on time and the right way. Coworkers feel safe enough to be vulnerable in front of each other or those in ‘higher-up’ positions. People own up to mistakes and take risks when appropriate — and most importantly, feel comfortable doing so.
When we constantly feel in danger of being shamed, attacked, or shunned, we feel so psychologically unsafe that we protect ourselves by isolating ourselves, never taking risks, and never bringing up problems. It’s emotionally draining just reading that, amiright?
In contrast: in a psychologically safe workplace, people feel free to disagree, offer up creative solutions, and bring up issues as they happen — not months or years down the line when they’ve finally had it and are ready to give their two weeks’ notice.
Avoiding or discouraging conflict — through words or actions — is the perfect way to ensure your workplace will not be psychologically safe, will not foster trust and respect, and certainly won’t be churning out the best, most creative solutions.
By addressing conflict in a healthy way, you show your employees and coworkers that they can feel safe being vulnerable and engaging in conflict resolution without fear of retribution.
Many companies are still in that awkward, pre-teen phase of embracing conflict and dissent in the workplace, because most companies haven’t spent time developing employees’ conflict management skills.
If you’re still in the early stages of embracing the power of healthy conflict in the workplace, recognize that it’s going to take time to make that (huge) cultural and behavioral shift, and it’s OK if you don’t have the tools to do it all on your own. Call in a professional conflict resolution specialist to help you resolve specific workplace conflicts and to create systems that encourage healthy, productive conflict resolution.
It can be scary, but once you see the positive changes, you’ll be ready to make healthy conflict resolution an integral part of your work environment.