Healthy vs Unhealthy Conflict at Work

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Conflict rears its ugly head every now and again in the workplace, we all know that! Whenever multiple people are with each other for extended periods of time, it’s inevitable that conflict will show up at some point. However, just because there is conflict, that doesn’t mean it has to be ugly. Workplace conflict can benefit organizations and teams if the situation is handled well. The main determinant of the outcome of conflict lies in whether the conflict is healthy or unhealthy, followed by how it’s dealt with. Yes, there are two types of conflict, and yes, the outcomes vary significantly between the two types!

What is healthy conflict?

Healthy conflict is “based on mutual respect and trust”, with participants being able to express thoughts without being bullied or put down for having a difference in opinion. When there is healthy conflict in the workplace, teams experience more productivity and more engagement, thanks more innovation, creativity, and collaboration.

To see healthy conflict thrive in your workplace, it is vital to create an environment of psychological safety. Individuals must feel safe to speak up, be vulnerable, and make mistakes, without fear of punishment. Psychological safety is the one factor that high-performing teams have in common (so it must be important!). If you aren’t currently ensuring your environment is one your employees feel psychologically safe in, now is the time to make that a priority.

If you happen to be directly involved in a disagreement, go in with a goal to understand the other person’s perspective and seek common ground. A major key to keeping conflict on the healthy side of the spectrum is to steer clear of aggressiveness. Assertive communication will move the conflict toward resolution, whereas aggressive communication will derail progress.  

What is unhealthy conflict?

Unhealthy conflict occurs when “one person or group might attempt to assert power over another by talking over them, blaming, claiming superiority, or putting the other person down with negative statements”. Conflict of this nature disrupts teams, leading to resentment, negativity, and increased employee turnover.

The tough thing when unhealthy conflict is present is that the people involved don’t usually want to seek an agreement. They want to win a battle and prove themselves right. When both parties in a disagreement aren’t looking to find common ground, it will (obviously) take longer to reach a resolution, if resolution ever happens.

Do all you can to minimize and combat unhealthy conflict, as it tends to be personal, defensive, and unproductive. As a leader, having the skill to discern between healthy and unhealthy conflict will serve you exponentionally.

What are the warning signs of unhealthy conflict?

It can be difficult to identify unhealthy conflict before it’s too late, but it’s not impossible. Keep your eyes out for these signs of unhealthy conflict:

  • Resentment
  • Declining morale
  • Disengagement
  • Lowered productivity
  • Lack of trust & respect
  • Circular conversations

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The information above might be overwhelming but try to take one thing from this article – pay attention to the environment around you. There will be signs of unhealthy conflict and behaviors that could harm your team’s happiness and success, so be aware and don’t be afraid to step in and act. Your leadership in those tough situations will greatly benefit your team and organization.

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If you want team training to improve conflict resolution, communication, and employee engagement, chat with a CoreCounts Consultant about the options we have for team training!

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