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The Reality of Conflict and How Healthy Conflict Drives Results

Conflict is a reality in every organization, but how can you make the most of it? Learn about the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict, how to embrace conflict, and how to demonstrate mutual respect in your team and company.

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Healthy conflict vs. unhealthy conflict, and why the distinction matters

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but it doesn't mean it's a personal attack. Let's look at the following hypothetical scenario as an example:

Jim, a seasoned master mechanic, entered the owner's office, visibly upset. He was frustrated with the service writer, Sam, whose frequent questioning of Jim's decisions was causing significant tension and affecting their work. Jim felt that Sam's constant questions undermined his expertise, leading to missed deadlines and escalating his frustration to a breaking point.

The owner, Tony, recognized the gravity of the situation as Jim was a valuable long-term employee and the only Master Mechanic, while Sam was excellent with customers and eager to learn. Understanding the impact of workplace conflict on productivity and employee morale, Tony addressed the issue calmly.

Tony discovered that Sam’s questions were not meant to challenge Jim’s competence but were driven by a genuine interest in learning more about the mechanical aspects of their work. With this new perspective, Jim’s attitude softened, and he agreed to mentor Sam, transforming a potential crisis into an opportunity for growth and improved communication.

Healthy conflict can distinguish a team or company. How well your team handles conflict is crucial for the employee experience and a company’s financial success.

The facts about conflict in the workplace

The hours that people spend in conflict per week on average add up to about 1.5 or 2 full workdays spent in conflict per month, which quickly consumes the valuable time of human resources and people management personnel. 

To ensure that those days are being spent productively, knowing the difference between a healthy and unhealthy conflict is extremely important.

How can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict?

Unhealthy conflict is what most people picture in their minds when they think of conflict. It can involve heightened emotions, tension, anger, insults, stress, and more. People involved in an unhealthy conflict are usually unable to actively listen to one another and fail to achieve a desired outcome, walking away in a worse spot than when the conversation started. One misunderstanding leads to another, and things quickly spiral away from any productive discussion.

By contrast, healthy conflict occurs when a disagreement is handled in a constructive, productive, and respectful way. Rather than a clash of an unstoppable force with an immovable object, a healthy conflict appears more like an exchange of perspectives and ideas

It’s a conversation with a shared goal to handle things respectfully, actively listen to one another, create a common understanding, and come to an agreement on how to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Healthy conflict is made much more possible when the involved parties understand each other and their communication styles on a deeper level.

3 ways that healthy conflict drives results

Let’s look at a few critical ways that healthy conflict drives results in your team and company.

1. Inspiring creativity and driving innovation

Within healthy conflict, people have cordial and logical exchanges, acknowledging the positives and negatives that come with each potential idea. More healthy dialogue leads to more unique ideas and perspectives being brought to the table, which enables group consensus, clearer decision-making, and more complete outcomes. People feel more welcome to contribute their ideas when they trust that they will be heard and accounted for and not personally attacked.

2. Improving relationships with dignity-based communication

Healthy conflict means that teams are enabled to talk through their disagreements and differences of opinion in a safe way without the risk of attacks on their character, As a result, relationships grow stronger and friendships tighten as people learn how to respect and honor each other’s dignity at all times, which builds trust, one of the most critical ingredients to a strong and productive relationship.

3. Enhancing productivity

Because conflict can be an extremely useful tool for bringing important issues to light, it can improve productivity at the individual, departmental, and organizational levels. Healthy conflict allows individuals to work through problems without tensions attached, allows teams and departments to produce more productive outcomes as a result of their collaboration, and allows organizations to improve processes and practices.

How to foster healthy conflict in your team

Now that you understand the benefits and importance of embracing healthy conflict, let’s look at a few ways you can implement it into your team.

1. Host a team building experience with Confetti

If your team is struggling with conflict, hosting a team-building experience like Think Faster is a great way to lighten the mood, gain some perspective through improv games and role-playing, and get your team back on track. Walk away from the experiences with a better understanding of each other and the tools you need to handle various scenarios with your team.

How to get started 👉Work through some various scenarios in a round of Think Faster
Think Faster by Confetti

2. Create an environment of psychological safety

People manage conflict well when they are in a psychologically safe environment where they can speak candidly, be vulnerable, and acknowledge failures constructively and without being put on the defensive. Create an environment where people can open up their thoughts and feelings with one another without the fear of a dignity violation or attack coming into play. Use rumble language and active listening to ensure that conversations are conducted in a way that keeps everyone curious rather than defensive.

How to get started 👉 Practice walking in each other’s shoes at the Empathy Water Cooler
Virtual Empathy Water Cooler by Confetti

3. Provide time for learning and education

People can only put into action what they know. What might seem like healthy conflict to one person could be seen as toxic to someone else. Provide your team with ample time and resources to learn about healthy conflict resolution strategies and action steps. Take the ambiguity out of the picture – get everybody on the same page.

4. Encourage diverse perspectives and open dialogue

When team members feel valued for their unique insights and viewpoints, they are more likely to engage in meaningful discussions rather than avoid conflict altogether. Promote an open dialogue culture by inviting team members to share their opinions during meetings and brainstorming sessions.

Implement practices such as round-robin discussions or anonymous idea submissions to ensure everyone's voice is heard. This not only helps in addressing conflicts constructively but also leads to more innovative solutions and a more inclusive work environment.

How to get started 👉 DEI Conversations at Work is a great activity to practice having an open dialogue with your team members. 
Virtual DEI Conversations at Work by Confetti

Final thoughts

Conflict is a given, but healthy conflicts are a choice. How conflict is managed can make all the difference. While unhealthy conflict creates suboptimal outcomes, pushes people apart, and significantly diminishes productivity, healthy conflict spurs creativity and innovation, improves relationships, and enhances productivity.

Start enabling healthy conflict by creating a psychologically safe environment, providing opportunities for education and learning on the topic, and hosting team building activities with Confetti

Speak with our Happiness Concierge to learn how Confetti can help your team! Schedule a Call
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