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Conflict as A Tool for Growth

Conflict is a natural part of honest human interaction, arising from diverse views, interests and perspectives. When understood and managed constructively, conflict can be used as a force for much good and provide extensive opportunity for growth, innovation, and better outcomes particularly in the workplace. It moves us away from group think and a closed mind mentality enabling us to assess all possibilities.

Common recognisable causes of conflict in the workplace include miscommunication, competition for resources, power struggles, personality clashes, and differing work styles. However conflict is much more than a few causes. Behind conflict lies energy, passion and commitment and in my own experience often individual desire to reach the best outcome possible. It is important to recognise the types of conflict, the increased tension, more frequent disagreements, decreased productivity or even, in my opinion the most destructive being conflict avoidance.

What are the three types of conflict?

Understanding three different types of conflict serves as a starting point in finding productive ways to diffuse or harness conflicting situations:

  1. Relationship or interpersonal conflict can arise from personality clashes, hostility, or annoyance between individuals.  Often, honest viewpoints of individuals serve as the creator of such situations.  Diverse backgrounds and culture can often create lots of misinterpretation owing to differing culture beliefs and norms. Relationship conflict can negatively impact employee performance, satisfaction, and the overall ability and output of the team.
  2. Task conflicts are differing views and opinions on how tasks are performed for example spending strategy or task scope.  When managed constructively, task conflict can actually lead to enhanced team performance, often resulting in superior decisions and greater cost savings compared to individual contributions.
  3. Process conflict refers to differing perspectives on how to complete tasks or allocate resources. If not addressed, process conflict can be detrimental to team performance, as it can divert attention away from the task at hand and focus on irrelevant factors beyond the team’s control.

Paying attention to the level of conflict within these types can ensure constructive conflict that fosters innovative solutions. In parallel, it is important to address and manage destructive conflict and conflict that falls outside the team’s control. By effectively managing the different types of conflict, teams can navigate challenges, promote collaboration, and achieve their goals.  Let’s take a look at the benefits of embracing diverse viewpoints.

What are the benefits of conflict?

  1. Enhanced Decision-Making: When different opinions are considered, decision-making processes are enriched. Diverse viewpoints provide a broader range of perspectives and insights, enabling more informed and well-rounded decisions. Blind spots can be identified, alternative solutions explored, and better choices made.
  2. Increased Creativity and Innovation: Differing opinions stimulate creativity and innovation and by incorporating diverse perspectives, new ideas and approaches can emerge and encourage outside-the-box thinking.
  3. Improved Problem-Solving: Conflicts often arise from differing interpretations of problems. By actively listening to diverse honest viewpoints, a deeper understanding of the underlying issues can be gained. This, in turn, facilitates more effective problem-solving by considering multiple angles and exploring a wider range of potential solutions.
  4. Stronger Team Dynamics and Collaboration: Valuing and incorporating diverse honest viewpoints promotes inclusivity and respect within a team. It fosters a collaborative environment where individuals feel heard, valued, and engaged. This, in turn, strengthens teamwork, builds trust, and improves overall team dynamics.
  5. Personal growth and learning: Engaging with differing opinions challenges our own beliefs and assumptions. It encourages us to reflect on our own perspectives and opens doors to new insights and knowledge. By being open to differing opinions, we can expand our horizons, enhance our understanding, and continue to grow both personally and professionally.

How to deal with conflicting situations

  1. Acknowledge the conflict: Recognise that there is a conflict and understand the type and underlying issues causing it.
  2. Encourage open communication: Create a safe and supportive environment where all parties involved can express their concerns and perspectives without fear of judgment or retaliation.
  3. Active listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention to the other person, seeking to understand their viewpoint, and asking clarifying questions.
  4. Find common ground: Identify areas of agreement and shared goals to build upon and establish a foundation for resolving the conflict.
  5. Explore solutions together: Brainstorm possible solutions and alternatives collaboratively. Encourage compromise and seek win-win outcomes.
  6. Seek mediation if needed: In more complex or deeply rooted conflicts, it may be helpful to involve a neutral third party, such as a mediator or HR representative, to facilitate discussions and help find a resolution.

Reframing conflict positively involves viewing conflict as an opportunity for honest and open communication. By reframing conflict in this way, individuals can focus on the underlying issues, encourage transparency, and promote a culture of constructive feedback. It helps foster trust, innovation, and growth within the workplace, leading to stronger relationships and better outcomes.

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Karen, leveraging 25 years of international expertise, is your go-to HR consultant and speaker for organisational and people development for Future Work.

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June 6, 2023

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