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Can workplace conflict ever be healthy?

It is all too common for project professionals to find themselves caught up in the crossfire of conflict, acting as mediators. Refereeing between team members with strong ideas can be exhausting, and there are certainly times when we could do without it. But, can conflict actually be beneficial?

We’re here to argue the case that conflict can in fact be healthy. It is one of the best ways to reach optimum results, and investing your time, energy, and efforts into being a negotiator and peacemaker will pay dividends. Here’s how:

Conflict can spark creativity

When pushed to our limits, we look for solutions. Getting adrenaline pumping with healthy debate will engage our conflict resolution muscles, and we will start to form solutions. Creative thinking is a skill that will come naturally to some, but will need harnessing for others. As a leader it is your role to know your team member’s strengths and their behavioural traits, and drive any conflict to be a positive experience for all. Conflict can be uncomfortable, but by openly exploring, teams can channel disagreements towards reaching better outcomes, sparking ideas and innovations in the process.

Agreeing to disagree can bring teams closer

Collaborative practices bring teams closer together, and conflict is not exempt from that. Dealing with conflict in a safe and positive environment will bring your teams closer as they learn to work together to form resolutions. It is imperative that you have a workplace culture where individuals feel they can comfortably speak up.

It is also paramount that a balance is struck so that disagreements are non-hostile, but also don’t result in ‘groupthink’ where team members just comply in order to keep the peace. Friction is all part of resolving potential problems, but you must handle it in a way that means your team is still speaking to each other at the end!

Retention is improved with healthy disputes

Building a closer-knit team is sure to have a positive impact on retention. Teams that collaborate to find solutions will gain an improved sense of belonging. A well-handled, healthy dispute demonstrates to employees that their views are valued by their employer. What’s more, conflict can ensure leaders know exactly how their employees are thinking and feeling, rather than second guessing. This offers up an opportunity to foster that relationship, address any issues, and improve rates of retention.

Refereeing improves your skills as a leader

As we’ve touched on, there is a real talent to conflict resolution. Being a negotiator is a fine art. But by honing this soft skill, you look to gain all the benefits we’ve discussed above – enhanced innovation and creativity, closer and more productive teams, better working relationships and improved rates of retention. But the cherry on the top is that you will become a better leader by doing so!

Facilitate your conflict resolution skills by also improving soft skills such as active listening, risk-taking, and empathy. How you act and behave during conflict will influence how your team behaves too. Fostering healthy conflict will help you to resolve disagreements, fuel innovation and deliver the best results.

Rounding up

As project professionals, conflict is an inevitable part of our job, but we needn’t see that as a bad thing. As we’ve discussed, channelling honest, open disputes can drive us closer to our desired results and help us reach optimum outcomes. It is important that we handle conflicts to keep the project delivery moving forward, and see the resolution process as a key process in getting us there. With a shared vision of project success, conflict can have a positive impact on the project.

If you’d like to learn more on this topic, head to our sister site - ILX Group - where you can find training courses on Managing people in projects, as well as Conflict resolution training.