Past Research Shows How to Leverage Positive Conflict in the Workplace | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

December 30, 2019by Noah Shaw

Summary of:

Trong, T., “Leveraging positive conflict in the workplace” (2019). FMP Consulting. 1-4.

Background & Theory:

Past research has divided workplace conflict into three sectors: relationship conflict, process conflict, and task conflict. Relationship conflict happens primarily due to interpersonal incompatibility. Process conflict occurs when there is incompatibility with roles, responsibilities, schedules, and tasks. Task conflict occurs when there is incompatibility with handling and finding solutions to the task itself. Out of all of these conflict types, task conflict is the only one capable of leading to positive outcomes.


Research was consolidated to answer the following question:

  1. What elements underlie the process of optimizing task conflict into its most beneficial and positive form?


Methodology included the consolidation and analyzation of several past studies. This was in an effort to create an understanding of the complexity of relationship, process, and task conflict and further, to evaluate how the three forms of workplace conflict can be utilized to maximize positive conflict.


Research suggested that task conflict itself has the potential to be positive only if certain conditions are met. This being said, when relationship and process conflict are controlled at moderate levels, task conflict can be positive. Relationship and process conflicts must be maintained at low enough levels that individuals in a working environment can focus on task issues.

Additionally, task conflict must be at a moderate level so that individuals are able to feel a collective desire to improve whatever problems are being faced.

In order to minimize relationship and process conflict as well as keep task conflict at a moderate level, it helps to foster a company culture that is cooperative instead of competitive. Organizational leaders should also focus on establishing measures of conflict prevention while promoting an environment of psychological safety and group interdependence.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over past research, we can take away this key insight:

  • Task conflict has the ability to be positive only when relationship and process conflict are mitigated. Establishing a cooperative interdependent group culture that has active conflict prevention strategies is key to this mitigation as well as the promotion of positive conflict. When positive conflict is utilized, individuals may find they are more open to constructive criticism, more individually creative, embody a more open mindset, and have overall better group performance.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: When consulting companies, explaining the value positive conflict can have to individuals, groups, and the company as a whole may be beneficial. Furthermore, establishing relationship and process conflict prevention mechanisms within an organization is essential to achieving this desired positive task conflict.

For Everyone: Although conflict can be intimidating, it can be positive as well. At work, finding ways to contribute to positive task conflict — like being open-minded and accepting constructive criticism — will likely help lead to better group performance.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems. His writing on the latest workplace conflict resolution research has been featured on

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