Curating Healthy Conflict to Ignite Organizational Performance


Just as stress can either impede or improve athletic performance, conflict can tear apart organizations — or set up teams for transformational breakthroughs.

But what do high-performing organizations that channel conflict into acceleration do differently? Their leadership choose to embrace conflict resolution strategies and train employees on conflict resolutions skills. These companies recognize that conflict is natural and healthy; conflict avoidance is not.

Difficult People Cause Difficult Situations — and Other Myths

In my work championing conflict resolution at work, I often come across myths about conflict that hold back even the savviest companies and leaders. What I’ve found is that these myths all spring from one source: conflict triggers change, and change can be scary. Embracing change — or at a minimum, resisting the urge to fear change — requires a commitment to developing one’s emotional intelligence, and it can be taught.

But first, leaders seeking to develop healthy approaches to conflict resolutions must create a comfortable culture of change, and that begins with helping employees recognize myths about conflict as nothing more than fiction. Here are the top three myths I hope you can shatter at your company:

  • Myth: A Conflict-Free Workplace Is a Productive Workplace. It may seem counterintuitive, but a conflict-free workplace can be a sign that employees don’t feel safe speaking up or don’t believe their lived experiences and contributions are valued. Creating a progressive culture in which employees are encouraged to share their opinions in a spirit of productivity must start at the top.

  • Myth: Difficult People Cause Difficult Situations. What defines “difficult” when describing a person? It’s a highly biased assessment. Of course, some people simply are toxic, and their attitudes must not be allowed to impede their colleagues or poison work environments. But beyond these rogue personalities, most so-called difficult people simply are sharing an alternative point of view, addressing their concerns or daring to lend their voice to an issue. From my personal experience, I can share that being the first one to throw out an idea during a meeting can seem risky. However, when trained to display conflict-resolution skills that harness the power of emotional intelligence, these “difficult” employees can become your best asset.

  • Myth: Managers Must Resolve Conflict. Few organizations are truly flat. Some semblance of hierarchy usually exists. Yet too many managers hew to the concept that, as leaders, they are responsible for solving all problems. While I admire their sense of responsibility, they may inadvertently be reinforcing conflict myths and disempowering their teams. Peer mediation is an effective and empowering tool for resolving conflicts and encouraging people at all levels of your organization to take ownership of challenging situations without expecting their leadership to resolve it.

When allowed to flourish, these myths endanger organizations. You’ve probably seen the effects, ranging from the amplification of future conflicts, to rampant miscommunication that hampers productivity, to disunity as the most abrasive outcome.

I assure you that it doesn’t have to be this way at your company -- despite groupthink that might say otherwise.

How many times have you heard others simply say, “That’s the way it is,” when it comes to dealing with workplace conflict? Too many organizations default to the erroneous concept that difficult people, difficult situations and an all-engagement management culture simply is a byproduct of modern workforces or the price to pay for scalable profitability.

Unfortunately, we often don’t hear from companies until leadership teams have reached an inflection point — the proverbial beginning of the end. Are sales trending downward? Is high employee turnover impacting quality and service? Are negative reviews hampering business-development activities? These are only a few of the warning signs. If you’re witnessing these or others, it doesn’t have to spell disaster. It can be, in fact, a turning point toward building a healthier culture.

Should you strive to create conflict-free organizations? Absolutely not. But can you cultivate people who are conflict-resilient? Absolutely! At Productive Learning, we empower organizations to translate conflict into confidence. To learn how, contact me about our executive coaching and leadership development training at admin@productivelearning.com or call us at (949) 234-0625.

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