Positive Conflict Can Lead to Positive Outcomes
Conflict exists everywhere: We see it in politics, schools, business, and family relationships.
People generally perceive conflict as having negative effects. In an organization, family, or classroom, differences of opinion and clashing personalities are not unusual. However, even in a highly contentious climate, people who have to work together should understand the basic principles of how to learn from conflict so they can identify how to proceed effectively and create positive results.
Everybody has to deal with conflict—but does everyone have to embrace it?
Tompkins, an expert in management and organizational behavior, has previously written about how conflict can be useful for teams to learn to work together effectively. In today’s high-stress, confrontation-oriented culture, one of the main challenges to embracing conflict is management that enables toxic leadership on teams.
“It turns out that almost every organization has someone who is … toxic,” Tompkins said. Research shows that for their followers, toxic leaders are destructive to organizations: “There’s more turnover, there’s more dissatisfaction in the workplace, and there is less engagement. It costs the organization a lot of money to have this kind of person in the workplace,” said Tompkins. She added that organizations tolerate toxic members because their supervisors want to avoid conflict.
Recognize the Source and Value of Conflict
Organizations need to measure the effects of the toxic performer and “have leaders and cultures that are willing to confront the toxic individual’s behavior and demand different behavior,” Tompkins said.
Organizational leaders can even take negative conflict and use it for rebuilding.
“Sometimes we have to have a certain amount of destruction in order for things to get better,” she continued. “If we think about healing, sometimes things have to be torn apart: We have to have surgery; we have to have our fever go up in order to get the body to get rid of the viruses that we have in us.”
Tips for Positive Conflict
To meet expectations in all four stages of learning in an organization, leaders and team members must use conflict productively, which involves the following:
- Communication: Have the courage to talk about what people may be avoiding. Know what conversations are crucial and how to communicate with others so that everyone can discuss processes and goals.
- Believing people: If you know that someone believes in the organization’s goals and values, see past initial behaviors that might have created conflict and encourage them to engage and contribute to solutions.
- Common goals: Identify goals to generate a united sense of purpose.
- Transparency: Make it possible for everyone to know what to expect from others, which builds trust.
Recognizing Negative Conflict
Sometimes, when conflict runs too deep, an individual and an organization will need to part ways.
“If your values are constantly being challenged … or people are asking you to do something that you would not feel good about,” Tompkins said, “you’re not supposed to be there—and you have to find something else.”
Citation for this content: Business@Pepperdine, the online Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School.