Conflict is everywhere – on the news, between family members, and even in your business. But workplace conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The type and frequency of conflict that arises among your company’s coworkers can say a lot about your business. Finding ways to move toward healthy ways to address conflict can help you improve employee productivity and change the story of your business.

Don’t Be Scared of Conflict in Your Business

Your people make your company what it is. Whether they are on the front lines providing service to customers, or never see each other face to face, employee satisfaction is a key component to company success. Many managers see conflict as an obstacle to satisfaction. They may fear any interpersonal conflict between employees, and seek to avoid disputes at all costs, out of fear that dissatisfaction will reduce productivity, or even trigger resignations.

But you can’t prevent conflict. It is everywhere. Trying to tamp down interpersonal disputes between employees will not prevent them from happening. Instead, it will change the company culture, giving coworkers the sense that management (you) doesn’t care about their problems, and is just trying to save face. Rather than avoiding conflict, examine the sources and content of that conflict to see what it says about your business, and its needs.

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What Your Company’s Conflict Says About Your Business

Most workplace conflict falls into one of three categories:

  1. Values Conflict
  2. Interpersonal Disputes
  3. Workflow and Task Conflict

Which type of conflict you are facing says a lot about the challenges facing your business.

Values Conflict Raise Calls for Clear Leadership

If you are seeing disputes that center on company values, including those related to workplace harassment and discrimination, it may be a message that your workers need clearer goals and priorities. Strong statements from leadership about the values and vision of the company – including statements against hate, misconduct, and discrimination – can make it easier for employees to rally behind that vision.

Conflicts may still emerge when two priorities conflict (and they will). That is the kind of healthy conflict that can push your company toward its goals. A clear, well-articulated strategic vision for your company can help employes resolve value disputes without threatening the company’s productivity or talent pool.

Interpersonal Disputes Arise from Lack of Trust

When your employee complaint inbox is full of interpersonal disputes between coworkers, it may be a sign that your team does not trust one another. Trust is essential to keep your company functioning smoothly. But when that trust is absent, it can cause employees to be resentful, secretive, and protective of their own interests (even their own jobs!) over the interests of the company.

If your business’s conflict is telling you there is a lack of trust in your workplace, you will need to model that trust from the top. You must take active steps to make employees understand they are valuable to the company and get them pulling for the same team.

Workflow and Task Conflicts Can Be a Sign Your Business is Thriving, or Throttled

Workflow and task conflicts may seem minor compared to the other types discussed above. However, when employees are placed in competition for resources, it can be a sign that your processes are slowing the company down. If growth is your goal, taking time to address conflicts over processes and resources can be essential to further streamline workflows and relieve frustration caused by bottlenecks.

Task conflict can also be a healthy, and collaborative part of your business. When employees are empowered to debate and adjust their processes, the creative process can bring team members together. It can also foster greater creativity, leading to solutions no one employee – even you – would have thought of on their own.

Changing the Culture Around Conflict to Help Your Business

The way your business treats and resolves conflict can be the difference between a toxic working environment and a place for collaborative growth. Changes to workplace culture around conflict must start from the top. As a leader, you need to be ready to be challenged, receptive to criticism, and committed to collaborative resolutions of disputes. If you can’t do that, you’ll be sending a message to your employees that you don’t care what your company’s conflict says about your business.

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.