Why conflict is important

6 Jul, 2017Edward Appleby

This article was originally written and published by Speak First

Debating about work

There are three types of conflict (Jehn and Mannix):
1. Relationship conflict stems from interpersonal difference and incompatibilities
2. Process conflict refers to disagreement over the group’s approach to the task and its methods
3. Task conflict relates to differences in viewpoint and opinion about a particular goal or task

It would be surprising if you managed to live your life without encountering conflict. Whether it’s at work, at home, when you’re driving or in relationships. According to Wikipedia, conflict is:

‘Friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group when the beliefs or actions of one of more members of the group are either resisted by or unacceptable to one or more members of another group.’

So what’s the difference between conflict and disagreement? Sometimes they can look very similar. Disagreements are open. Everyone involved knows what each person thinks and they are about content rather than personalities. They are sometimes called arguments. They may end up in agreement. They may end up agreeing to differ and continuing by taking each person’s views and beliefs into account.

When there is conflict people often have strong feelings or make assumptions about the other person (or people’s) view. There is often little desire to communicate openly, to truly listen with the aim of understanding the other person. Behavior can be passive aggressive with one or more party talking to others about the issue but not the person they are in conflict with. Conflict is usually the result of misunderstandings between the parties involved. It can be resolved once those misunderstandings are discussed and understood. Conflict often involves personal values (what’s important to you) that have been violated in some way. Values shape our sense of identity acting like a compass that guides our behavior. By exploring what’s important to each party and seeing things from another viewpoint we can often find a road to resolution.

The key to resolving conflict is identifying true rather than perceived threats and then finding strategies to solve them.

The thing to remember is, conflict isn’t always bad. Conflict can be very healthy. It increases awareness of problems that exist and provides a reason for finding a better way forward. When conflict is valued it encourages an environment where change is seen as positive – a way of making things better. Innovation thrives. It also helps teams make more effective decisions and strengthens relationships.

When you think about some of the conflict in your workplace at the moment, it’s worth identifying whether it’s healthy conflict, or negative conflict. If it’s negative, then it can be helpful to find ways to reduce the conflict, either directly or indirectly.


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