Conflict in the Workplace: Can It Be a Good Thing?

Throughout our careers, there’s one thing that we can bet on having: conflict. However, it doesn’t always have to be a negative thing to encounter. During the IAUG Professional Development webinar, Leading Through Conflict: Staying Cool and Effective through the Toughest Situations, presenter Debra Zabloudil, president and founder of The Learning Studio, taught about why having conflict can be a positive thing to have in the workplace.

Zabloudil defines conflict as “the tension that exists when people or organizations have conflicting or competing goals.” Conflict isn’t just within our work environments, but it’s a part of our human nature. People are naturally not going to have the same goals. Just as marketing teams might have different goals of a communications team, it’s a natural part of life. Our ability to deal with conflict in a personal and professional world is a mark of our maturity.

Another mark of maturity is the ability to understand that conflict can be a positive thing to have in the workplace. A diverse company where our co-workers aren’t like us is a breeding ground for conflict but can resolve in great solutions.

“When companies are too similar at the top, that’s when conflict can arise as well because there’s no creative tension or systems of checks and balances. Our companies are becoming more diverse, and not everyone is just like us. That’s a good thing. How boring our lives and our companies would be if everyone were the same?” says Zabloudil.

One way that this can play out in our companies is if a junior employee has the opportunity to review essential work and finds an issue with it and speaks up. That voice could be the major source of innovation to see the problems that groupthink overlooked. Fear of conflict and staying silent when there are issues only breeds discontentment, groupthink, and is a mark of bad leadership. Conflict doesn’t always equate to a bad working environment. Zabloudil quotes Dorothy Thomson, “the distinction that peace isn’t the absence of conflict, but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.”

“When companies are too similar at the top, that’s when conflict can arise as well because there’s no creative tension or systems of checks and balances. Our companies are becoming more diverse, and not everyone is just like us. That’s a good thing. How boring our lives and our companies would be if everyone were the same?”

– Deborah Zabloudil

Before we can see how conflict can be a positive thing in the workplace, Zabloudil is adamant about knowing yourself before trying to empathize with whomever you disagree with. She says that if we don’t know ourselves, then we are no good to help anyone else.

“If you don’t know what you bring to the table or your blind spots, you’ll have a difficult time helping other people. We start using the same ‘deep dives’ into other people when we dig into ourselves. You might understand the motivations and blind spots of other people that way,” says Zabloudil. “Leader, know thyself.”

Raising our emotional intelligence and being mindful as a leader will check themselves frequently will overall increase the emotional intelligence of their team or company. Zabloudil encourages us to check in on ourselves frequently to find our first step to being cool and effective through conflict.

“[Good leaders] whether it’s in the car ride or train ride home, at some point will ask themselves, ‘How did I do today? Was I a good manager today? Was I good to my people? Did I listen? How can I do better tomorrow?’ If you can do this into your daily routine, it will have a tremendous impact,” says Zabloudil.

Click here to get more information about how to lead through conflict and to listen to the rest of the professional development series on demand now! Click here to get more information about how to lead through conflict and to listen to the rest of the professional development series on demand now!

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