Beverly Smallwood

Article Summary:

When conflict in the workplace is handled constructively, it promotes growth and problem solving.

Handling Conflict in the Workplace Constructively

Conflict is a natural part of any team or relationship. It can be healthy or unhealthy for the relationship, depending on how it is handled. When conflict is handled constructively, it promotes growth and problem solving.

The body builder knows that resistance actually grows and strengthens muscles. Resistance can have the same effect on teams. In teams, that resistance comes from the natural and necessary differences in such areas as background, training, personality style, values, pace, or priority. Blended together, these differences can create a balanced team represented by all perspectives.

On the other hand, when differences are judged or stereotyped by team members, the assets potentially gained from diversity become liabilities. Resolving differences constructively is a key team leadership skill.

As people live and work together every day, they bring their histories… their past experiences, their family and social influences, and their work experiences. From all of these sources, they’ve formed attitudes and beliefs, which get played out on the workplace stage every day.

Some common areas of conflict are:

1. Preferred methods
Some people think that “my way is the right way.” Even those who are not so rigid often secretly harbor the belief that they have learned the most efficient and effective ways to do things, and that others should really listen to them. The fact is, there are many right ways to get to a desired outcome.

2. Sharing of resources
In today’s environment where people are being asked to do more with less, there is often conflict over people, budgets, tools of technology, and even supplies. When the resources are limited, conflict is often a by-product.

3. Priorities
Various people in the workplace are responsible for accomplishing their job tasks, and they are often on different timetables than those around them. Often people mistakenly think that others should share their priorities.

4. Personality style differences
People have different personality and social styles, all of which are important for effective teamwork. However, even good intentions often cannot prevent the misunderstandings that can occur between people who think differently, approach tasks differently, and communicate differently.

5. Power struggles
The underlying need for control and power is at the root of many conflicts in the workplace. Who will have what information? Whose work area is the most spacious or prestigious? Whose opinion counts most in the final solution? These are fertile fields for conflict.

6. Values
Underlying every serious conflict is a value struggle. People in the workplace judge their own behavior as well as those of others by what they believe should be done, by the values that they hold. The lack of trust runs most deeply when the individuals involved perceive that the others involved come from an opposing system of values.

Recognizing these sources of conflict in the workplace is the first step toward being able to do something about them. Constructive discussion of these differences can build bridges over which ongoing dialog and work can freely pass.

Beverly Smallwood is a licensed psychologist who has worked with Fortune 500, healthcare, and other organizations around the world for over 20 years. Her specialties are leadership development, employee retention, and personal resilience. She’s often featured in such national media as MSNBC, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, FOX, and New York Times. To contact her about speaking, consulting, or coaching, call 877-CAN LEAD (226-5323) or visit her website Magnetic Places, where you can also sign up for her free email newsletter.

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