Every team, group, and company face conflict eventually. And they should. Believe it or not, conflict is good for your business, if you know how to use it to your advantage. How your company deals with conflict when it arises can make all the difference in establishing a healthy workplace culture where your employees can thrive or allowing a toxic working environment to drive top talent away. Find out what a conflict-healthy workplace culture looks like, and what you can do to build one.
Taking the Temperature on Healthy Conflict Strategies
If you want a comfortable workplace, conflict, just like the temperature, can’t be too hot or too cold. With too much unresolved conflict, your workplace can become toxic. Coworkers may compete over resources or even face discrimination at work. This can make employees look elsewhere for a more comfortable working environment.
But it isn’t good for your workplace to feel too “cold” either. If you are not seeing conflict, it could be a sign that your team has become conflict avoidant. When team members are afraid or unwilling to raise disagreements at work for fear of negative consequences, it can keep your employees from functioning as a team. When disagreement is chilled, resolution isn’t possible.
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What a Conflict-Healthy Workplace Looks Like
A healthy approach to conflict in the workplace requires everyone, but especially management, to place their trust in one another, and the company. When everyone is pulling together, conflict isn’t toxic, it’s constructive. One key step to overcoming organizational dysfunction and a toxic workplace culture is to develop a healthy respect for conflict, and strong policies and practices to resolve it.
A conflict-healthy workplace invites people to voice their disagreement, even with their superiors, and express their suggestions for improvement and change. Those differences of opinion then open avenues for dialog on how to resolve the issue. When employees feel like their concerns are heard and, when appropriate, changes are made to address them, conflict can propel growth, rather than holding your company back.
How to Build a Conflict-Healthy Workplace Culture
A healthy workplace culture is built from the top down. Nowhere is that more true than in conflict resolution. How you, as a business owner or manager, react to your employees’ complaints and concerns sets the tone for how disagreements will be received within the company hierarchy. Once you set an example of healthy conflict resolution, others on your team will be invited to follow, improving the entire company’s workplace culture. Here are some first steps:
- Work with an organizational development specialist to identify your team members’ existing conflict resolution strategies
- Develop and distribute a formal corporate conflict resolution policy
- Ask employees about deadlocks and bottlenecks (and listen to their suggestions!)
- Make space for dialog about contentious issues
- Be open to criticism
- Thank team members who are brave enough to tell you that you are wrong
- Question assumptions about the way things are or should be
- Invite different team members to lead meetings
- Develop win-win solutions that address the needs of the whole team
- Address interpersonal conflict privately and respectfully
- When changes are needed, make them transparently
- Bring in an objective facilitator to resolve entrenched workplace conflict
Building a conflict-healthy workplace culture does not happen quickly. You need to take time with your team, developing trust and encouraging them to be vulnerable. This can take months, or even years, depending on your company’s history and current workplace culture. But the end result – a conflict-healthy workplace culture – will foster creativity and productivity in a way few other workplace changes can. If you want your team to be their best, it all starts with how you respond when they are at their worst.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience in resolving organizational dysfunction. Through business consulting and facilitation, David helps businesses and teams improve workplace culture and develop strong conflict resolution strategies. Contact us to meet with David to move toward high organizational functioning today.