How To Handle Conflict At Work… And Maximise Performance

How To Handle Conflict At Work – And Maximize Wellbeing And Performance

Let’s face it, conflict at work is unavoidable, and dealing with it can be a real challenge. When you’re a leader, it’s your duty to ensure that conflict happens in a healthy way. That’s because when it does, it maximizes both well-being and performance for you and your organization.

When two parties share a positive mindset and the skills to deal with conflict in a healthy way, everyone’s opinions and ideas are heard. It enables open debate and it facilitates buy-in from team members and their commitment to decision-making and actions,

The big question is: how do you handle conflict at work positively? In this blog post, I explore what you can do as a leader to deal with conflict in a healthy way, and how to harness the right energy and the right skills.

Unhealthy And Healthy Conflict

To be an effective leader, it’s important to differentiate between unhealthy and healthy conflict.

Unhealthy Conflict

When conflict is unhealthy, something is missing: either the desire or the skills to deal with it positively. It’s destructive, and the energy is negative. That’s because unhealthy conflict is driven by fear, those involved are in ‘saboteur mode’. This kind of conflict easily escalates and gets out of control.

Resolution requires compromising and one or both parties giving up their position. It erodes trust, creates resentment, damages relationships, and lowers productivity and wellbeing. In extreme cases it leads to absenteeism, sabotage, strikes – and even litigation.

Healthy Conflict

When conflict is healthy, those involved see conflict as unavoidable and embrace it as a gift. Both parties involved are mentally fit. They are able to deal with conflict in a positive or growth mindset.They are upfront and direct with each other in order to arrive at solutions that help each other grow. With healthy conflict, people trust each other and feel safe in challenging each other’s ideas and positions. They attack the problem, not the person.

They seek the best possible solution for both sides, and are driven by positive emotions. They are in the ‘sage’ part of their brain  and help each other grow too.

Knowing The Difference

The difference between handling conflict in a healthy way and dealing with it in an  unhealthy way comes down to having the skill set and being in the right mindset or energy (positive or negative).

When unhealthy conflict is happening, both parties are in a negative mindset. They’re fear driven, and they keep fighting for their respective positions  and we are compromising. They’re in their survival brain or saboteur mode.

With healthy conflict, there is a positive energy. We’re in the sage part of our brains where we’re able to empathize, explore, innovate and activate in a calm, and focused way.  Team members are collaborating, upfront and direct in challenging each other as a way of arriving at the best solutions and helping each other grow.

Four steps to Positively Manage Conflict

To manage conflict at work positively and effectively, there needs to be trust amongst your team members. The leader and the team must feel safe to be authentic and vulnerable, to admit to mistakes and shortcomings, and feel supported and cared for by one another. When there is trust, all parties can engage in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas.

The healthy conflict approach is about collaborating and embracing conflict as a gift. Here are the four steps to achieve that:

  1. Be in a positive mindset. People who are mentally fit have the capacity to respond to conflict and other challenges with a positive mindset rather than a negative one. To be in a positive mindset, reset before the debate and think about ways to reset during the debate. A reset involves focusing on one sensation of your body and letting go of your thoughts.
  2. Be curious. Listen to each other’s position. What do you want? What do they want? Why are those things important for each and everyone involved?  Your goal is to understand and learn about the underlying aspirations for both sides. You also want to find out about the underlying needs, fears, or concerns that led to each position.
  3. Be creative. The goal is to find a new position that satisfies the underlying aspirations of both sides, you’re not compromising  – you’re looking for a win-win situation where both sides get what they want.
  4. Activate: What actions are we willing to commit to? As you move into Action what could sabotage this action including these negative thoughts and emotions (saboteurs) of the people involved? What would our Sage response be? What support/help are we willing to seek?

Final Thoughts On Dealing With Conflict

The healthy conflict approach promotes collaboration and maximizes wellbeing and performance, fosters empathy, curiosity, creativity and builds deeper relationships.

The more skilled leaders and their teams become in handling differences and change with positive energy, the easier it is to drive sustainable positive impact for yourself, others and our world.

You can start right now. And I can help. Take a look at my coaching services.

Further Reading:

  • ‘The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team’ by Patrick Lencioni
  • ‘Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential, and How You Can Achieve Yours’ by Shirzad Chamine