Can workplace conflict be healthy? It might seem counterintuitive when so many of us try to avoid it. Let’s say you have a difference of opinion with a colleague. You might try ignoring the issue, changing the subject or withdrawing from the situation altogether. But the truth is that workplace tension is becoming more common. In fact, managers spend over four hours a week dealing with conflict, according to the most recent Conflict at Work study conducted by the Myers-Briggs Company. The research revealed that time spent on workplace conflict has doubled since 2008.
Unfortunately, negative friction at work can be detrimental and costly. For example, a CCP Global Human Capital report estimates that conflict costs U.S. companies approximately $359 billion in paid hours annually. Yet when approached positively, workplace conflict can increase engagement, empathy and communication.
Even though workplace conflict often has a bad reputation, it can be incredibly productive. Here are some reasons why.
Reach better solutions
Workplace conflict is common among diverse teams where people challenge each other with varying viewpoints. And, as it turns out, this diversity results in better decisions that contribute to the bottom line. For example, a McKinsey report examining over 300 public companies found that those in the top quartile for diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. And those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.
Foster new ideas
Workplace conflict is beneficial when it comes to opening our eyes to new ideas. One reason is that you invite new perspectives by encouraging a healthy dialogue and debate. It also fosters creativity because you encourage individuals to challenge assumptions and break from the majority. By managing conflict effectively, you ultimately fuel innovation.
Acknowledge different perspectives
All too often, poor communication is the number one cause of conflict. To reduce the likelihood of a toxic company culture, encourage people to respect and consider varying viewpoints. Always speak calmly and be aware of the message your body language sends to others. Finally, practice active listening and clarify your expectations to avoid confusion.
If handled correctly, healthy conflict can make employees feel more secure. At that point, individuals are comfortable sharing their opinions without fearing a negative outcome. Creating a safe space also helps people collaborate more effectively. Finally, an increase in trust and security allows individuals to focus on the task at hand, which boosts performance.
Fear of conflict prevents teams from reaching their true potential. That’s why another benefit of healthy conflict is that it builds commitment. People want to be heard and feel that their ideas are being considered. When teams are encouraged to engage in productive conflict, they are invested. That way, even if they disagree with the final direction, they can commit to doing their best because they understand the logic behind the decision.
While workplace conflict is inevitable, not all work tension is bad. The key is to foster a healthy, inclusive environment so co-workers can be transparent and vulnerable. By following these tips, you’ll be able to develop a cohesive team that is committed, engaged and, most of all, productive.