Workplace conflict becomes opportunity

As a workplace conflict resolution specialist, I think conflict gets a bad rap. Don’t get me wrong, lingering, ignored, and/or escalating conflict has serious consequences for any group. But when handled well, conflict is actually healthy for a team. Have you ever had a heated debate with your leadership team and come out on the other side with a great decision that everyone is proud of and gets behind?  If you haven’t, you may be avoiding or ignoring the issues you need to talk about the most.

Here’s an opening nugget: Workplace conflict is normal. 

Without divergent opinions coming into the open, results remain status quo and eventually slide backwards.  Disagreement can be uncomfortable, of course. However with practice (and maybe a little guidance), organizations make their greatest leaps through openly discussing and resolving workplace conflict.  

Too often leaders are ashamed or embarrassed by the notion there is conflict amongst their team, or heaven forbid between them and someone in particular.

Strange as this sounds right now, MOST Americans would rather avoid person-to-person disagreement altogether than engage in an open, honest discussion. However, when we make learning something the goal of addressing conflict, the most uncomfortable aspects tend to disappear. Developing the courage to get interested in understanding the “why’s” behind disparate viewpoints is key.

Leadership team members are sometimes afraid of speaking up, even when they see the light coming and know it is a train. 

I’ve noticed teams who avoid workplace conflict are often led by someone whose ego is bigger than the desire to do what’s truly best for the organization. You’ve seen what happens when a leader is agreed with all the time, right? Division outside the meeting room, coupled with meetings after the meetings.

Have you experience this phenomenon? It’s when “team” members gather after the meeting to discuss how the problems “should” be fixed and complain about issues that needed to be discussed during the meeting. Unfortunately, the only impact the “after meeting” has is to further frustrate and fan the flames of the unaddressed issues.

This brand of conflict falls into the lingering, ignored, and escalating category. Bad “stuff” happens to these teams. Stuff like turnover, lost productivity, missed deadlines, unhappy clients/customers, and lost revenue. A few superstars will succeed (with their own teams) under such conditions, but it will be temporary.  Superstars won’t stay in this environment long-term.

Enough downer information… let’s jump back to the “workplace conflict is normal and can even be healthy for a team” information: 

Leaders who have the courage to say what needs to be said, hear what needs to be heard, and encourage the same from their teams, make things happen. Inviting different perspectives, with honest, open, discussion, builds trust. It also keeps your organization moving towards innovative ideas and achieving those big strategic goals. 

This week, rather than retreat to our corners or bury our heads in the sand, what if we all try meeting workplace conflict with genuine curiosity?

What if we welcome diverse opinions and seek the opportunities hidden just beneath the differences? Rather than shutting down a “dissenter”, try getting interested in what she sees, understands, or maybe fears, that you don’t. Being genuinely curious about divergent thoughts and ideas is one of the best ways to learn something new, spark creativity, and unite a team. This is what allows workplace conflict to be transformed into golden opportunities.

Within conflict ALWAYS lies opportunity. As leaders, it’s our job to model the best behavior and encourage the hunt for those opportunities.  Contact us today for more information on turning workplace conflict into realized opportunities.

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