Raised voices. Angry tones. Cringe-worthy words thrown back and forth. Attempts at reconciliation devolving into mean-spirited arguing.
Maybe you’re someone who thrives in heated situations. But for many of us, unproductive conflict is uncomfortable, maybe even intolerable. We are taught conflict is something to be avoided.
But what if that weren’t the case? What if conflict could actually help drive innovation and results? What if it could bring teammates together?
At its core, conflict is not actually a bad thing. When managed appropriately, conflict can even be helpful. Though the idea of intentionally integrating conflict into your team for the sake of progress may sound counter-intuitive, that’s exactly what effective teams do.
Two Sides of Conflict
If you’re on a team, it’s less a question of if conflict happens than when. So, what happens on your team when teammates disagree? Are there open arguments or emotional debates? Are team members able to reach constructive solutions after airing their opinions? Or do debates devolve into dysfunctional behavior?
If conflict is occurring out in the open, and aggressive or mean-spirited arguing is taking place for the whole team to see, most people will agree it’s an unproductive work environment.
But if that’s the case, is it better for teammates to keep their opinions to themselves? To pretend they agree when they don’t? To say all is well, even when it’s not?
Though it exists in many workplaces and may appear better than outright arguing at first glance, artificial harmony is no healthier or productive than fighting amongst teammates. On teams where artificial harmony is the norm, conflict happens beneath the surface… but that does not mean it isn’t happening at all. Over time, the underlying lack of trust and commitment will tear the team apart.
So, given conflict can be both as unproductive as ongoing combat and as misleading as surface-level artificial harmony, what’s a team to do? How can we actually use conflict productively?
The Value of Conflict
Given most people consider conflict negative, you may be facing an uphill climb to convince your team that it’s worth it to engage in conflict. Here are three ways to reframe conflict into a more positive concept.
Conflict is a natural part of teamwork. When you bring people together, whether that’s a partnership, a team of ten, or an organization with a thousand employees, they will always disagree. It may not happen right away, but disagreement is part of working together. Knowing that and proactively preparing for it goes a long way towards using it constructively.
Conflict expands ideas and options. When conflict is encouraged, and teammates understand it is safe to air their opinions, more ideas are generated, and a greater level of expansion and exploration begins to occur within the team.
Conflict encourages growth. In both personal and professional situations, recognizing the difference between where you stand and where another person stands on a given topic or issue provides perspective. With new awareness comes a chance to reconsider and reevaluate old beliefs and viewpoints, allowing you to choose a new path if it’s time for a shift.
How to Engage in Productive Conflict
Ready to practice productive conflict on your team to build better collaboration as you achieve results together? Consider these three steps to help you on your way.
- If your team is new to the idea of productive conflict, your first step is to introduce the idea of conflict as an opportunity for growth. The Everything DiSC Productive Conflict assessment and profile offers an easy, non-judgmental way to do this. Level the playing field by assessing each teammate to reveal their unique conflict style, sharing their results with them, and then bringing the whole team together to discuss the most helpful way to address questions or raise issues.
- With an awareness of their conflict styles, your team is ready to engage in productive conflict intentionally. However, it’s unlikely this will happen overnight. Once productive conflict is understood conceptually, it’s time to practice – and that starts at the top. If you want your team to engage in productive conflict, you must lead by example with vulnerability-based trust. Readily admit your mistakes, offer ideas that may not work out, and show your willingness to let down your guard for the sake of team success. Your teammates will respect you more for it and become more willing to speak up for themselves. You can also bring your team together for a transformative teaming event to kick-start a new mindset and way of interacting.
- Lastly, after vulnerability-based trust is established, and teammates feel comfortable sharing their perspectives, encourage team members to regularly engage in unfiltered, constructive debate. Clearly state that open disagreement is not only welcome but encouraged. Show your team that you genuinely believe everyone deserves to be heard, even though the group’s final decision always means compromise.
It will take time for trust to grow and teammates to open up. But you can influence that progress by strategically reframing the concept of conflict, opening the conversation with your team about how to disagree productively, and building a culture that encourages vulnerability-based trust.
Still feeling in over your head despite these tips? That’s okay, too – team dysfunction can be a lot to handle, especially if navigating conflict is not in your inherent wheelhouse. The good news is you don’t have to solve the problem alone. Our seasoned facilitators are here to help you develop and lead the kinds of teaming events that evoke true change and tangible growth.
Whether you tackle it on your own or with our help, now is the time to turn conflict into a tool you not only use well but actually welcome on your team.