The value of a conflict-free workplace

Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review wasn’t pulling any punches on the topic of workplace conflict when it published the ugly truth about an upper-management conflict “case study”.

If not dealt with effectively, disagreement between employees can be a disruptive and costly occurrence: one study revealed that workers, globally, spend more than two hours of paid time each week simply dealing with workplace disagreements. In the US, alone, this equates to $359 billion in wasted wages each year.

However, office conflict is not always unproductive, nor preventable. Conflict situations have an important role to play, as they reveal communication challenges and teach employees about themselves and what they are reacting to. But we can dissolve conflicts as they arise, break through them, learn and grow – individually and as a team – and then do the same as future conflicts emerge.

Prolonged conflict and black-and-white thinking will stagnate, but workplace conflict can be an asset if it is approached through effective leadership and the acknowledgment of personal values. Anytime you’re in a conflict with somebody – when you’re butting heads and feeling defensive – understand that you are expecting each other to live in one’s own values. You’re at war”, he cautions. “If you can’t see what they’re dedicated to and how it serves you, and they can’t see what you’re dedicated to and how it serves them and their highest values, there’s no communication. You have an alternating monologue at best, never dialogue.

To help resolve workplace conflict quickly and effectively, business leaders should encourage participants to ask themselves four effective questions:

  • Where and when have I done that in my own life? – Whatever behaviour or actions employees see in others, they have also expressed in their own lives in some way. This question unlocks the understanding among conflicting individuals that behaviours are universal, albeit expressed in different settings and circumstances.
  • Whatever that person has done, how does it serve me? – Wherever there is a challenge, there exists an equal amount of support. Encourage warring individuals to recognise the benefits associated with their co-worker’s actions – the innovations, skills, and insights that this behaviour has enabled.
  • If they were doing things the way I wanted, what might have been the drawback? It’s important to crack the fantasies individuals hold around others – the desire to see only support and not the challenge in their own desired result. This question helps employees see their perceived competitor according to their respective values, not the fantasy of how things “should be”.
  • At the moment they did whatever they have done, who did the opposite? Many leaders doubt this concept, but it always proves true: whenever someone is causing a problem, someone in the company is doing the opposite. It’s easy as a manager or co-worker to become infatuated with some employees and resent others. However, understand that an action is always mirrored by its opposite in any environment.

By acknowledging the inherent importance of personal values, and by directing workers to ask these four questions in times of conflict, leaders can get people working together again. People want to be right, take their stance, be in the highest position within an altercation, but if you can direct individuals to methodically and objectively answer these questions, it will dissolve conflict, allowing employees to enjoy more motivation in your company rather than frustration. Less conflict means more productivity and inspiration.

Dr John Demartini, Founder, The Demartini Institute

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