5 Benefits of Workplace Conflict Kari Boyle, Queen’s IRC Facilitator, 2017
It may seem like an oxymoron to have the words “benefit” and “conflict” in the same sentence. Our workplaces today often involve varying levels of interpersonal and institutional conflict and so much energy is devoted to prevention and management it is understandably difficult to understand how conflict could possibly have a positive side!
It helps to remember that conflict (including disagreement, difference of opinion, concern, complaint, friction, etc.) is not inherently good or bad. It is an inevitable result of human beings associating with each other in the world, in our families and in our workplaces. There are many articles and blog posts trumpeting the “benefits of conflict” but, on reflection, this phrase is much too simplistic. It is not the conflict that directly creates benefits, it is dealing with the conflict well. The key to unlocking the benefits of conflict is learning to engage effectively with conflict when it arises.
I have learned much about conflict and conflict engagement from Bernie Mayer. In his Queen’s IRC article The Paradox of Leadership: Cooperating to Compete, Following to Lead, he emphasizes that how we “set the stage for the effective use of conflict and how we respond to conflict is critical to our effectiveness as leaders”. This is a leadership competency and these skills are becoming more and more in demand. We can’t deny, avoid or prevent all conflict. So what can we, as leaders, do? Bernie suggests what to some may be a revolutionary concept:
The more important challenge is to create the space for conflict to occur in a constructive way for people to raise difficult and contentious issues, and for leaders to be exposed to often uncomfortable disagreements. Otherwise, problems fester, important views are squelched and effective communication is inhibited.
So there are good reasons NOT to allow conflict to fester, but what are the potential positive benefits that could flow from providing such a safe space for conflict to occur? My research and experience has revealed many benefits from engaging well with conflict. Five of the most important benefits which relate to workplace conflict are…
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