Given enough time, any group of people will eventually find themselves in conflict. No matter how good your team’s relationships are, it’s only a matter of time before a disagreement occurs. Knowing how to engage in healthy conflict will help you make decisions and get things done without damaging office relationships.

Conflict arises when two or more people with different points of view feel strongly about something. Conviction in an idea is good. You want team members that push the envelope because in doing so, we stumble onto breakthroughs. Without conflict, there are no breakthroughs. And without breakthroughs, you can’t innovate. We all know what happens when we fail to innovate. We die.

Productive Conflict Versus Destructive Conflict

To handle conflict well, you first need to understand that there are different kinds of conflict. There is a way to foster conflict that leads to life and there is a way that leads to death. Understanding the difference between the conflict that leads to life and the conflict that leads to death will help you lead your team through conflict well.

Productive Conflict

Productive conflict is what happens when two or more people discuss their thoughts in an understanding way with an aim to provide the best solution possible. You don’t have to completely agree with each other, but you do have to exercise empathy. This requires a certain level of humility. Maybe this person sees something you don’t. Once you understand their side of the story, you can begin to reach common ground and work toward a more complete resolution.

When everyone has the same thoughts and ideas, your business is on the fast track to stagnant results. But productive conflict empowers employees to question the norm and improve on ways of doing things. It embraces unique and creative thought – thinking outside the box.

Here’s an example of a team member using conflict productively:

“Why are we using this system? I noticed there’s significant downtime when relaying communication. What if we use system X instead? It’s more sustainable to scale and I would feel more confident doing my role.”

The team member recognizes the way things are done and is offering a solution based on either experience or research. Allowing employees the freedom to question things and create conflict can help take your business to new levels. Notice there is no disrespectful talk nor name-calling in the conversation. Better solutions are the focus of every kind of productive conflict. Egos are left at the door and client needs and the well-being of the company are placed in the center.

Destructive Conflict

Destructive conflict has an individual and their ideas at the center of the discussion. Usually in destructive conflict, at least one person initially believes that they’re right and reject the possibility that they could be wrong. Rather than seeking to produce the best end result, they seek to have their idea(s) be the solution to a particular challenge. Pride swells and the conversation disintegrates.

If left unchecked, this kind of conflict can damage trust, wound relationships, and stop the production process. When people think of conflict, it’s often this kind of conflict they have in mind. No wonder so many of us are conflict-averse. We should avoid this kind of destructive conflict.

As a leader, if you notice team members creating destructive conflict, quickly confront and address the issues to find a common goal. Then redirect the attention to that goal.

Busting Conflict Myths

Because of these jarring and destructive conflict experiences, a lot of us believe many false things about conflict in general. Have you fallen into one of these conflict myths?

Myth 1: A Quiet Office is a Conflict-Free Office.

Don’t confuse peace and tranquility with a lack of conflict. Just because people aren’t shouting and disagreeing with each other, doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict behind closed doors. If things seem perfect, take a hard look at your team. They may be experiencing a toxic form of conflict. People may be too afraid to speak up or don’t care enough to voice their concerns, so they resort to passive-aggressive comments, favoritism, exclusion, or gossip. All things that give the illusion of peace and quiet but if left unaddressed could result in an explosion.

To counter this issue, proactively encourage healthy confrontations. Set up regular feedback sessions and meetings and ask hard questions about how things are really going. Make sure everyone gets an opportunity to speak and to be heard. It’s better for the team and your business as a whole.

Myth 2: This Conflict Isn’t a Big Deal…It’s Better to Keep it Under Wraps.

Healthy conflict often stems from a strong desire or opinion and a “get it done” attitude. These help your business grow and become stronger. But we often tread lightly hoping that we won’t rock the boat too much. We wouldn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable by making our issues known…right?

Healthy conflict may make others feel uncomfortable, but not disrespected or undermined. If you keep the conflict under wraps, you’ll eventually fall into myth #1, pretending that nothing’s wrong. We’re not saying you need to announce every office conflict, but create a system that helps everyone involved reach a solution and move on. Don’t just sweep it under the rug.

Actionable Ways to Rethink Conflict

Conflict is not the big, bad wolf that is going to destroy your business. It’s quite the opposite. Productive, healthy conflict is going to take your business to the next level. Here are a few ways to embrace conflict and stop avoiding it.

See Issues from Another Point of View

Perspective is everything, especially when resolving conflict. When you’re in it, or mediating it, step back to see it from everyone’s point of view. Empathize and strive to understand where everyone is coming from, even if you don’t agree with them. They will feel respected and heard, while you may gain insight that’s beneficial for your team and business.

Think Solutions, Not Drama

To channel conflict into productive terms, you must be solutions-oriented. Once you identify the different sides you can come to a solution that everyone can respect. Don’t just let things linger and remain unresolved. Make sure everyone is heard and that your solution encompasses the breadth of concerns on your team.

It’s OK to Express Emotions

Honesty, directness, and empathy are key components to productive conflict. Keep the conversation professional but be authentic. Emotions are good, as long as they aren’t out of control and we remain respectful to others. If buttons are pressed, take a break, or allow the frustrated party time to walk it off, and reconvene when everyone is level-headed.

Reflect On The Situation

The best way to learn is to look in the rearview mirror. After the conflict is discussed and a solution is reached, assess how you handled the situation – what could you improve? What will you do next time when conflict arises? Make notes of your reflections and keep moving forward.

Workplace conflict happens, and if handled properly, it actually helps the company innovate and grow. But to handle conflict well, you have to take responsibility for what you can control. While you can’t control other people, you can control how you respond to them and situations.

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise, neither side gets what it wants; by integration, we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” – Mary Parker Follett, Author

If you’re interested in learning how your team can handle conflict like a boss, we’d love to hear from you. At MAC6, we’re passionate about solving companies’ growth problems. We’re a co-working and co-manufacturing space in Tempe, Arizona and our management team has a breadth of knowledge and experience helping young companies solve growing pains and develop better, more resilient leadership in the process. If your company is experiencing the wrong kind of conflict, or if you want to strengthen your leadership skills, we encourage you to explore our free online resources. We also offer hands-on workshops, contact us to learn more and get started.