Every day most companies will experience some level of conflict and very little of it will be good or healthy conflict. Workplace conflict is mostly disruptive and conflict management takes up a lot of time and effort. It might be overt such as people struggling with a “Personality Clash” or, it could be covert, bubbling to the surface as back stabbing and workplace gossip. Conflict like this erodes relationships, cultures, and trust.
Conflict management is difficult and unpleasant.
So, can conflict be good?
Is there such a thing as healthy conflict management?
Conflict is simply a situation where two or more people have strong views.
“It is normal and natural for conflict to arise in all aspects of our lives.”
Good healthy conflict can also be called robust conversations and debating. Knowing how to navigate tough conversations is essential in effective conflict management.
How often have you experienced robust conversations? Can you recall how good conflict can feel?
Conflict can be inspiring, it can make you think deeply and force you to consider different perspectives. Good conflict nurtures us, challenges us, and keeps us learning.
Sadly, the conflict we are most familiar with happens because our conversations leave us assuming, judging, and misunderstanding. We listen to our inner voice rather than seeking clarity and meaning from others. We put our own opinions and ideas ahead of others and we listen only to confirm what we already know. As a result many of us see conflict as threatening, personal, and something to be avoided.
However it is unhealthy conversations that create unhealthy conflict.
“Conflict in itself is not unhealthy.”
Our fear networks can be triggered by our words and our conversations and this can override our rational and creative thinking. We turn our thinking inwards and resort to protective behaviours such as denying, criticism, and judgment. We are not open to influence and we stop listening when we are triggered.
One of the most valuable life and leadership skills we can gain is self awareness. When we are aware of what triggers us and/or when we feel that we are being triggered, we can learn to override this. Through conscious awareness we can engage our rational thinking and our curiosity, changing the nature and energy of the conversation. We have the power to turn an unhealthy conversation into healthy conflict by changing our words.
Healthy conflict management strategies
So what are some healthy conflict management strategies?
The very first step to creating good healthy conflict is providing people with the understanding, skills, and know how, for holding difficult conversations. When people have the conversational skills to deal with issues, and the know how to work together to co-create outcomes, the fear networks are less likely to be triggered.
The second step is building trust. Our brains are open to engaging and sharing with others when we feel trust. Good healthy conflict can move the conversation into the unknown and this can cause people to feel uncomfortable or vulnerable and so the environment must be respectful and supportive. The magic of this form of conflict are in the co-created outcomes that no one has thought of before.
Finally, have some guidelines or rules so that people understand the framework for healthy conflict. These guidelines will help guide the process, ensuring a respectful, engaging conversation even when it becomes tense and stressful.
Good healthy conflict results in high quality solutions and better decisions. This isn’t about win/lose, conceding or concessions. It is about being comfortable with the unknown and co-creating great things using the best strong minds. The energy may be tense and passion may be exposed however when conflict is healthy our brains do what they are designed to do: to think creatively, to draw on insight, and to discover new ways of connecting.
Conflict isn’t bad, it’s the conversations that cause it to be so.
Therefore all conflict management strategies are really about changing the conversation.