How Constructive Conflict in the Workplace Can Be Beneficial

Published: May 13, 2022 | Last Updated: February 19, 2024by Valerie Dansereau

When you think about conflict, you probably think about tension, arguments and heated disagreements. At work, people can disagree about many different things. Coworkers don’t always agree on how projects should be approached or handled.

Conflict can be either constructive or destructive. Conflict that leads to frustration, anger and negativity is destructive and isn’t beneficial to the goals of your business, but not all conflict at work is bad and not all workplace conflict should be discouraged. Constructive conflict in the workplace doesn’t have to involve hostility and anxiety and can actually benefit your organization.

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What is Constructive Conflict?

It’s unrealistic to think people can or should agree all the time. Constructive conflict is a way of discussing or debating opposing ideas to explore possible solutions. It’s possible to look at conflict as an opportunity for innovation and brainstorming. By listening to and discussing opposing perspectives or interpretations, team members have a chance to explore and consider different opinions and ideas.

When people disagree, there doesn’t have to be one person that’s right and one that’s wrong, and the interaction between individuals who disagree doesn’t have to be confrontational. Constructive conflict can lead to clarification of possible problems in the current approach, and it can lead to collaboration and the consideration of new and possibly better ideas. If no one ever challenges the status quo, you and your team may fail to consider better ways of doing things. This type of conflict allows team members at every level to bring up unique ideas.

Creating an Environment That Encourages Constructive Conflict

Avoidance of all conflict can mean missing out on fresh perspectives. To create an environment that encourages constructive conflict, hold team-building exercises to help team members get to know and respect each other. Encourage people to express their opinions in team meetings. Participants need to feel safe to express their thoughts and opinions. When team members know others want to hear their thoughts, they feel more valued. Encouraging creative expression and constructive conflict can help you to build a work environment that’s open and inclusive, and it gives each team member a chance to contribute ideas and truly make a difference.

Managing Destructive Conflict

Despite conscious efforts to embrace unique perspectives and discuss differences of opinions in a positive and constructive way, there may be times that destructive conflict may still happen. Team members may be hostile toward one another or refuse to speak to each other. Blatantly negative conflict can bring down the morale of everyone on the team and it’s up to leaders to prevent or halt destructive interactions between team members.

Leaders must be quick to recognize and respond to destructive conflict such as bullying, harassment or any form of disrespect. Meet with those who are in conflict and brainstorm ways to work through the issues. Listen to both sides of the dispute, but don’t allow conflicting team members to interrupt or disrespect each other. The goal is to find a win/win solution so that everyone gets some of what they want. With the right approach, destructive conflict may be turned in to constructive conflict.

When destructive conflict can’t be brought under control and is continuing to disrupt having a peaceful work environment, you may have to initiate disciplinary action and involve your HR department. Outside mediation services are often successful even when internal efforts to mediate a destructive conflict aren’t working. Conflicting team members may be willing to work with a third party who is completely objective to work through their differences.

To learn more about professional workplace peacebuilding, get in touch today.

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Valerie Dansereau