The Importance of Conflict in the Workplace

Debates are a healthy part of decision making and friendly competition can build respect. Conflict is too often seen as a negative experience, but an environment which encourages constructive challenges to be sought and explored can be critical to an organisation’s success.

We recently got together as a company and explored Lencioni’s model for high performing teams. Healthy conflict is dependent on the presence of trust. Without it, conflict will lead to division and bad feeling. Does your company culture have a healthy foundation of trust at its heart? Lencioni believed that results cannot be delivered without this underpinning trust supporting the team.

With the move to hybrid working there has been a huge focus on trust in the workplace. Many businesses have had to move away from presenteeism being used as a yardstick to measure, and welcoming performance, outputs and outcomes instead. With mixed ways of working and fewer in person interactions it has never been more important to grow trust.

As a team, we explored the behaviours that need to be present in order to develop trust:

  • Transparency: Encourage the team to share calendars, be honest about commitments outside of work and realistic about when work will be delivered.
  • Encourage a culture of feedback: This means both being able to receive it and give it productively.
  • An understanding and respect for each other as people: We are all different and have different views, values and priorities. Knowing what makes each other tick will help build trust.
  • Feeling comfortable to address conflict: Before we can explore healthy at work, we need to be sure everyone understands the benefits conflict can bring, and also the tools and practices we can use to make sure this is a positive experience when it does arise.
  • Taking responsibility when things go awry: A blame culture is unhealthy and will erode trust in the team. Stepping up and admitting mistakes will improve trust. It is very important that leaders role model this behaviour, so teams feel comfortable to be vulnerable when this happens
  • Preserving the human connection, through fun: The more laughs we have, the better our connections – so making time for the social stuff is essential for nurturing trust.

Only when your company has a true sense of trust can conflict become positive and used as an asset. So why would we welcome conflict and what are the benefits of conflict in the workplace?

  • Better decision making. Taking a deeper dive into the issue and considering multiple perspectives presents a more rounded view of the picture and greater diversity of thought.
  • An opportunity to grow and learn. Conflict in a healthy environment can help build confidence in individual team members.
  • Empowerment. If you aren’t afraid to be challenged and can articulate your point of view clearly, it can be empowering.
  • Relationships are strengthened and developed. You may disagree, but ironically conflict can deepen respect for each other.

So how can you create a healthy environment for conflict? Obviously, trust is paramount, but there also need to be ground rules for workplace conflict.

  • Don’t go down a rabbit hole, focus on the goal and finding the best way to achieve that goal. Straying from the point will open up cans of worms which are probably not relevant.
  • Speak for yourself. Never encourage a mob mentality to support your viewpoint, if the point you are making has value it will stand up on its own merits.
  • Listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak, actively listen to what is being said by others. Don’t always be the first to share your opinion – encourage others to lead.
  • Provide clarity. If an agreement cannot be reached explain who has the ultimate decision making authority and how a decision will be reached and communicated.
  • Reflect on the conflict once it is over, together. This is particularly important if the conflict gets heated. Being able to revisit a conflict after time for reflection can help you to find a way through.

If these sounds like the right kind of behaviours which you want to introduce to your organisation, we would be very happy to help you explore your company culture and introduce new ways of working together for your teams. We have over 17 years of experience delivering positive change. Contact


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