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4 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Conflict at Work

4 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Conflict at Work

When you hear the word conflict, what comes to mind? Is your first response to grimace with reluctance or fear? Does your blood pressure rise? Do you maybe even think it’s not biblical?

Despite so many of our negative responses to conflict, it is inevitable. We can try all we want to avoid it, but it won’t go away (and often worsens when avoided). Frequent, unresolved conflict can be emotionally distressing and lead people into cycles of frustration. When managed poorly, conflict often leaves people feeling like nothing will ever change.

But what if we believed that dealing directly with conflict could produce better results? What if rather than avoiding conflict, we embraced it to spark creativity and became conflict-competent?

Why be conflict-competent?

Not all conflict is bad; in fact, healthy conflict is an integral part of any dynamic organization. However, when left unresolved, conflict can infiltrate every aspect of the workplace, creating a toxic environment where addressing issues openly can feel impossible.

Some of the more obvious signs you may have underlying issues related to unresolved conflict include team members having difficulty working together and an overall lack of synergy. You may also notice an uptick in HR intervention for minor issues and gossip. All of these activities waste time, disrupt productivity, decrease creativity, and can even impact those we serve. As teams become more polarized, silos form, collaboration minimizes, and efficiency suffers. Unresolved conflict, or lack of attention to resolving conflict, can also impact turnover, which can be expensive.

Therefore, it is imperative we shift our perspective on conflict from avoidance to acceptance. By equipping individuals with the tools of "conflict competence," as defined by the Center for Creative Leadership, organizations can improve relationships, enhance problem-solving abilities, and foster a culture where lasting agreements pave the way for future success.

The Center for Creative Leadership defines conflict-competency as “the ability to develop and use knowledge, emotional and behavioral skills that enhance productive outcomes of conflict while reducing the likelihood of escalation or harm." People skilled in conflict competency:

  • Understand the dynamics of conflict,
  • Recognize that conflict contains an opportunity,
  • Have the proper skills to manage conflict well,
  • Model appropriate behavior when engaging in conflict, and
  • Respond constructively to conflict.

Thankful, conflict-competency is a learned skill. You don’t have to feel crippled by a culture of conflict avoidance but can help people develop good conflict skills. Conflict-competency not only produces better outcomes, but also increases organizational efficiency, employee engagement, and overall employee satisfaction.

Let’s look at four key strategies to cultivate conflict competency and empower individuals to navigate conflicts with confidence and effectiveness.

1. Foster a culture where people can actually disagree

In order to help people embrace rather than avoid conflict, it’s important to set the tone for positive experiences with conflict. This starts by encouraging diverse perspectives and open dialogue. In a sense, conflict and disagreements aren’t just tolerated, but actively sought out. Encouraging people to speak up fosters an environment where they are not afraid to express different opinions improves outcomes and promotes a more inclusive and dynamic workplace.

Additionally, it’s important to look at your organization's values system to ensure it allows for the healthy expression of conflict. This means accepting conflict as a means for growth and improvement, rather than a disruption. For example, if your organizational value is “peacemaking,” but the understanding of that value is “no conflict,” it will be difficult to change perspectives about the value of conflict. Clearly communicate how your values produce outcomes that embrace positive expressions of conflict.

2. Leave your ego at the door

In addition to fostering an environment where people can actually disagree, encourage individuals to leave their egos at the door. When meeting with others, empower people to maintain an open mind and be willing to contribute to discussions that may lead to conflict, not out of personal agenda, but to stimulate creativity and innovation.

Embracing diversity of thought and perspective is key; when done well, conflict can result in a more varied and enriched pool of ideas. Enforce a 'no bad ideas' policy and a 'no pass' policy. This ensures that everyone feels free to speak up and that no one gets left out. Be careful not to label or dismiss differing viewpoints, as this limits the potential for constructive dialogue and excludes valuable contributions. Pay careful attention to those on the fringes who may feel left out from contributing and look for ways to include their perspectives in the conversation.

3. Create opportunities to broaden people's perspectives

Often, conflicts arise from a narrow understanding of situations or issues. As a result, it’s important to help people break free from narrow-mindedness and be more open and accepting of differing opinions. As this becomes more familiar, the hope is that conflict would be sought after as a catalyst for ideation. Ultimately, everyone benefits from a wider range of ideas and insights.

Encourage people to explore diverse experiences and learning opportunities, rather than sticking to one set of beliefs. This could involve training sessions with various instructors or inviting members from other teams to offer fresh perspectives. As you broaden people’s perspectives, they will be less likely to cling rigidly to their own ideas and more inclined to consider and appreciate alternative viewpoints. This promotes a culture where conflict sparks growth and innovation.

4. Teach and equip people to respond to conflict in a biblical way

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” (vs 15). It’s one thing to recognize this command and another to actually practice it. This is why it’s unhelpful to tell people to “resolve conflict biblically” without providing any type of conflict resolution training. Few Christians have good conflict resolution skills, so when conflict does inevitably occur, it’s important people have a clear understanding of what that means and have the skills to do it.

Encouraging conflict competency requires coaching, development, and guidance. People generally don't seek to cause harm by avoiding conflict; they simply lack the necessary tools to handle it effectively. Model biblical conflict resolution and offer workshops, seminars, or small group sessions focused on biblical conflict resolution. Provide practical guidance on how to apply these principles in various real-life scenarios through role-playing, and also provide real-time feedback when conflict does occur. As you regularly discuss and reflect on these principles, it will become more natural for people to implement the skills.

Finally, encourage open communication and mutual encouragement in practicing biblical conflict resolution principles and develop a culture of accountability. It’s one thing to teach and equip, but the real change will come when everyone is responsible for positively embracing conflict.

As people experience the benefits of healthy conflict, they will become advocates for the process. Successful outcomes will energize teams, and you will soon see how a culture that embraces conflict is more creative, healthy, and engaged.

For more information about how to generate buy-in, cultivate creativity, and power success by leveraging the potential of healthy conflict, download our free white paper Disagree With Purpose: Fostering Healthy Conflict.


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