How Healthy Conflict is Part of Effective Communication
Wednesday, June 28, 2023 - Prophit Co.
June is Effective Communication Month, so we thought we’d bring to light one often overlooked part of, well, communicating effectively. We’re talking about conflict! Contrary to popular belief, conflict, when handled correctly, is actually a tool that can be used to benefit everyone involved. Common notions surrounding the idea of workplace conflict include that it is all unhealthy and uncomfortable, that it should always be avoided wherever possible, and that it has little to no potential to add any value to processes, meetings, and outcomes. With this in mind, tendency to avoid conflict is strong among employees, with 64% out of 400 respondents in a survey conducted by Nate Regier, former practicing psychologist, indicating that they would rather compromise to avoid conflict rather than make an argument for their preferred approach (Meinert).
When it comes to unhealthy conflict, there’s no doubt that each of those three concerns are true. The 64% in the survey are justified in erring on the side of caution with their approach. Conflicts that turn into petty or personal arguments and spiral out of control add absolutely nothing to the work at hand and can cause those involved to become stressed, angered, or dissatisfied with their work and with their team. Moreover, these conflicts result in tangible losses to companies. A CCP Global Human Capital report showing that $359 billion dollars in total are lost in the US on an annual basis as a result of conflict (Meinert). Unhealthy conflict should be avoided at all costs.
However, this does not have to be true of all conflict. Nate Regier notes that good leaders recognize that conflict doesn’t need to be destructive. In fact, it can be handled with compassion and can be leveraged to create positive outcomes for those involved (Meinert). Here are just a few of examples of those outcomes brought up by Amy Gallo, writing for Harvard Business Review:
- Better work solutions
Liane Davey, author and cofounder of 3COze Inc., states that conflict, although uncomfortable, is the “true source of innovation.” When team members are always weighing pros and cons and pushing one another to improve their solutions, better final outcomes result from the process.
- Improved relationships
Working through problems together will allow co-workers to gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives and preferences. The increased level of interpersonal comfortability and willingness to engage in healthy disagreements will bring people closer, strengthen trust, and tighten friendships.
- Higher job satisfaction
People will be less likely to feel like they are “walking on eggshells” all the time when healthy disagreements are openly allowed. They will be more likely to be satisfied with their accomplishments and their interactions with those around them. To reap the above benefits and more, leaders need to promote empathy, openness, respect, accountability, and active listening as part of communication. With these principles underpinning each disagreement in the workplace, there is a much higher likelihood that they will be worked through in a satisfactory way for everyone. However, given that conflict is often emotional, HR leaders and professionals will need to be involved to create a safe and conducive environment for everyone involved (Meinert). Once these principles and processes are in place, your employees will be happier and work better in their roles.
Gallo, Amy (2018). “Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work” [Article]. 3 January, 2018. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/01/why-we-should-be-disagreeing-more-at-work [Accessed May 17, 2023]
Meinert, Dori (2017). “Why Workplace Conflict Can Be Healthy” [Article]. 18 April, 2017. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0517/pages/why-workplace-conflict-can-be-healthy.aspx [Accessed May 17, 2023]