Researchers Examine the Positive Aspects of Conflict in the Workplace

Published: October 26, 2021 | Last Updated: July 14, 2022by Elise Sanchez

Summary of:

Lou Y. & Lu, L., (2020). A review of research on team conflict, conflict management and team performance, advances in economics, business and management research, 155, 321-326.

Background & Theory

There have been a number of research studies completed on the topic of conflict within the workplace. Conflict in the workplace is often looked at in a negative light considering how conflict can disrupt workflow and as well as team cohesion. However, this is not always the case. As shown in this article, conflict within teams can bring more creativity, initiative, and other healthy dynamics to performance and workflow. The research digs into the linear causality and system dynamic perspectives of how a diverse and international environment can cause conflict within the workplace.

Research Question(s)

The researchers YingLou and LeiLu in the article “A Review of Research on Team Conflict, Conflict Management Team Performance” seek to answer the following questions:

    1. What is the relationship among team conflict, conflict management and team performance?
    2. What are their influences?


The researchers looked at literary reviews on conflict. Many of the articles that they reviewed were on workplace conflict, different types of conflict, and diversity within teams.


The researchers listed out the types of conflicts in the workplace that occur, how these correlate to another, as well as how these different conflicts relate to another and the type of conflict they create.

The three types of conflicts found in this area are the following:

  • Task
  • Relationship
  • Process

Task conflict can be caused by a differing viewpoint, relationship conflict is caused by interpersonal tensions, and process conflict can be started by differing opinions on how to complete a task. From this, it was concurred that while conflicts are inevitable in these areas of teams, they are not all negative.

This is what the following research suggested about the relationships between these types of conflict:

DeWit / Jenh:

  • All of these types of conflict are likely to improve team performance and innovation
  • Relationship conflict and process conflict have a stable negative correlation with group performance

De Dreu / Weingart

  • Task conflict has a strong negative correlation with team performance and team satisfaction. Task conflict types with high complexity (such as decision-making type, project type, mixed type) have stronger negative correlation with team performance rather than task conflict types with less complexity
  • Task conflict displayed less of a negative correlation to team performance when task conflict and relationship conflict were weakly correlated

De Church / Marks

  • Relationship between task conflict and group performance was positive when conflict was actively managed with agreeable behavior and harmed satisfaction with neutral or disagreeable behavior
  • Linear relationship between task conflict and team creativity, but no such relationship between relationship conflict and team creativity.

Hamilton/ Haas

  • Relationship among team conflict, conflict management, team cohesion, team performance – conflict management has a direct positive impact
  • High level of conflict management not only has a direct impact on team cohesion, but also alters the negative and positive effects of relationship conflict and task conflict on team cohesion.

In addition, task independence shows a positive impact in team cooperation and team performance and a significant negative impact on relationship conflict.

What This Means

  • While there are negative aspects of conflict, there are also positive effects that occur from it.
  • However, the research that was used for the article has some contradictions based upon various researchers’ findings
  • Further research is needed to better understand the status of conflict management theory from a linear causality and system dynamic perspective


Final Takeaway

While there is still more research to be done on the topic, research indicates that not all conflict is negative and that conflict can bring positive elements to team environments.

For consultants: Having a diverse team leads to many beneficial outcomes in a team. A team with a range of backgrounds brings a variety of fresh ideas, perspectives, and experience to a project. While people may run into conflict while defending their beliefs for an idea, this also brings the opportunity for conversations that allows people to practice open mindedness and active listening.

For everyone: Being in a conflict over differing beliefs does not need to be taken personally. When running into these situations, practicing separating yourself from your idea as well as separating the person from their disagreement to your direction or belief allows space for conversation which can lead to finding a common ground of understanding.

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Elise Sanchez

Élise Sanchez is a double alumnus from Pepperdine University where she holds a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the Caruso School of Law and a Bachelors in both International Relations and French from Seaver College. During her time in her studies she found her passion for being an advocate for those who need help amplifying their voices. After finishing her International Relations degree, she decided to go on for her MDR to learn how to be a better advocate and peacekeeper.