Why You Should Embrace Conflict in the Workplace

Which team do you think is better?

1. A Team never gives each other feedback and has built up resentment but from the outside, everything looks healthy.

2. A Team regularly gives each other criticism even though they know it hurts someone's feelings.

The answer is neither, it’s a trick question!

Why are neither of these teams as effective as they could be? … because they haven’t learned how to harness the power of conflict. 

Conflict is natural among every team, no matter what you do your team will have conflict, but it’s up to the manager to ensure that conflict is productive not toxic.

If you don’t learn how to manage conflict on your team, conflict will begin to take control.

Stop shying away from conflict and learn how to control it.

Keep reading this article to learn: 

👉 Why teams need conflict. 

👉 Seven steps to create productive conflict.

👉 The benefits you will reap from embracing conflict.

Why You NEED Conflict

It’s important to understand conflict shouldn’t be avoided all together. Conflict is bound to happen, and truth be told, it’s a completely normal human interaction. 

Properly handled conflict can strengthen the workings of a team as it creates a chance to understand a new perspective, an essential step in innovative development. 

When you and your team see conflict as a tool to exchange ideas while allowing each party to be equally heard, it becomes a productive discussion rather than a fearful argument.  

Productive conflict creates an opportunity for progress and growth.

Not only does conflict allow us to learn more about our teammates but it also leads to improved working relationships, increased job satisfaction, and better employee retention rates. 

Productive conflict is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating a robust and productive workplace culture.

When you and your team see conflict as a tool to exchange ideas while allowing each party to be equally heard, it becomes a productive discussion rather than a fearful argument. 

7 Steps to Productive Conflict

To create productive conflict, you must embrace conflict as part of your corporate culture, which means you must generate conflict guidelines to establish productive conflict as a team norm. 

By creating conflict guidelines, you give your team a frame of reference to understand each other’s behaviours.

Creating conflict guidelines is also an rewarding team building activity as it helps to strengthen bonds among team members that come from psychological safety

Below I share seven principles you can use to create conflict guidelines on your team. 

1. Encourage questions.

One of the most common reasons conflict occurs is because of miscommunication.  The best way to avoid that is through clarification. 

Encourage your teammates to ask questions of each other so they have a clear understanding of the task at hand. 

If you and your team have a strong foundation of psychological safety your team mates will feel much more comfortable asking questions of each other as they will understand that there are no stupid questions.


2. Assume the best of one another.

Another common cause of conflict is misinterpretation. What some might see as a bubbly and upbeat message, others may see as bitter and sassy. 

Misinterpretations often come from different personalities and communication styles.

That’s why it’s essential to establish psychological safety and to get to know each other as individuals early on as it helps teammates understand where someone else is coming from.

Remind your team mates to not take misinterpretations personally because if they assume that every message is a threat or an attack on their personal character, conflict will naturally become commonplace. 

3. Don’t downplay minor issues.

Show employees that it’s important to not let small things fester. 

Remind them that when they try to brush off small problems that they’re actually creating the perfect storm. As we all know, when you overstuff a closet eventually piles out at once. 

Resentment builds over time if issues are left unaddressed. Be sure to check in with your team members from time to time. Show them empathy, kindness, and your support.  

4. Set up a meeting.

If there’s a problem that needs to be resolved the best way to do it is to unpack it in a one-on-one meeting.

A meeting also gives team members the chance to clearly communicate their sides of the story to one another and explain how they want to handle the issue.

This gives team members a time to focus on the problem and how they want to solve it.

5. Start with the problem and focus on the facts.

Within the meeting team members should always set aside time to present the facts and identify the problem that is being faced.

This helps team members work collaboratively against the problem rather than fighting against each other.

When team members work together to solve the problems with the facts they bring to the table they are reminded not to take issues personally.

When it comes to conflict the number one thing to always remember is, you’re all in it together against the problem, not each other.

6. Identify an end goal.

Identify what issue needs to be solved and what team members need from each other to find a solution. 

Figure out why the problem needs to be solved and what benefits will come of a solution.

You might be familiar with the software development project management term, Definition of Done, which is also applied here. The definition of done is a set of expectations that a project has to live up to before it’s considered complete. These sets of expectations are decided among team members and managers.

7. Follow up.

A few days later, follow up with the team members who had the disagreement. 

Make sure everyone is working towards carrying out the agreed upon terms and offer help wherever it is needed.

How Braintrusts Help Your Team Embrace Conflict

When your team learns to harness the power of conflict you unlock an entire new world of creativity and innovation.

When team members understand how to handle conflict properly (as seen through the seven conflict principles above ☝️) they’re suddenly able to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms without fear of negative repressions.

It's also important to remember that your team must also feel empowered before they're comfortable giving feedback to each other. When your team is empowered, your team isn’t afraid to speak up. This creates a culture of feedback that allows for better discussion, idea generation, and startup innovation.

By creating an environment where feedback is open and welcomed, teammates can give and receive direct and constructive feedback from one another raising the bar of every idea put on the table.

After establishing the seven conflict principles, the next step to reaching this level of feedback is to create your own versions of Braintursts on your team.

The concept of Braintrusts is inspired from Pixar. 

At Pixar, Braintrusts are defined as a group of trusted colleagues who get together to review the progress of a film in development. They are meant to strive for excellence and eliminate mediocracy.

A Braintrust involves a group of smart, passionate individuals who view themselves to be on an equal playing field of capability and aptitude. They’re built on trust and feedback.

Each member focuses on identifying and solving problems by analyzing the presented idea.

The primary concern of everyone in a Braintrust is to raise the bar of the idea at hand.

A Braintrust involves a group of smart, passionate individuals who view themselves to be on an equal playing field of capability and aptitude.

Most importantly, these individuals aren’t motivated by getting credit for their idea, looking good in front of their boss, or getting a bonus at the end. They simply want to engage their creative thinking and problem-solving skills to increase the quality of ideas presented to them.

To create Braintrusts on your own team start by establishing your seven principles of conflict. Then set a specific time for a creative bi-weekly meeting to discuss projects that are currently being developed.

In the Braintrust meeting, remind team members of the conflict rules and then request feedback from every individual. The idea is to create collaboration and discussion so that you can turn and idea into the best it can be.

Your Take Homes

Productive conflict can never happen without first establishing psychological safety and empowering your team members.

Team members need to feel comfortable enough to debate with one another which is created by a foundation of psychological safety.

Once team members establish a sense of trust among each other, they value the opinions of one another and as a result, want to hear what each other has to say. This encourages team members to speak up.

When team members speak up they begin to create discussion and debate which creates a sense of commitment as they begin to feel dedicated to the team and the projects the team works on.

With this safety, empowerment, and commitment teams can effectively put their ideas under pressure. They’re able to work through the discomfort of debate and discussion to create better and better ideas ending with the best product. 

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