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Healthy Conflict: How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace for Thriving Teams

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Disengage. Run! Panic. Defend.

The concept of conflict at work carries such a negative association that simply saying the word “conflict” triggers one of the above reactions.

There seems to be an underlying belief that all workplace conflict is bad, and it will only make situations worse.

The key is to engage in healthy conflict and to have creative abrasion.

Healthy Versus Unhealthy Conflict at Work

No, healthy conflict is not an oxymoron. Simply put, it’s when we can focus on the ideas rather than making things personal. The latter is what pulls us into the unhealthy conflict zone.

Here are some examples of the difference:

Healthy Conflict at Work

  • Curiosity about other viewpoints
  • Listening to others, even if you don’t like what they are saying
  • Staying focused on facts, while naming feelings
  • Specifically naming the problem and focusing on solutions

Unhealthy Conflict at Work

  • Assuming your perspective is right, others are wrong
  • Interrupting the other person, disengaging from the conversation
  • Defending; attacking; avoiding feelings
  • Focusing on the other person as the problem, leaving issues unresolved

As we become familiar with healthy and unhealthy conflict, we can start to notice when we are pulled into the unhealthy conflict zone. When this happens, we can practice shifting back into the healthy conflict mindset as a resolution strategy.

A quick tip on how to do that: When you notice you are moving into the unhealthy conflict zone, pause and take a few deep breaths. Next, try practicing curiosity by asking a question:

  • What experiences/data led you to that belief?
  • What’s important about that to you?

Bring the conversation back to the idea.

Creative Abrasion for Conflict Management & Resolution

Creative Abrasion is when a diverse group brings their ideas, perspectives, experience, behavioral styles, and all their genius to the table. When all these ideas “abrade” against each other, then the very best, most innovative solutions can surface.

“As a leader, if you want to get innovation, you have to amplify the differences in your organization, not minimize them.”

Linda Hill
Professor Harvard Business School

Therefore, healthy conflict can help us thrive in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous work environment. As changes and fluctuations in business are more frequent and unpredictable, adaptability is increasingly important. Creative Abrasion helps us not only survive but thrive.

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Free Conflict Style Assessment Tool

What’s your conflict style? Download our free reflection tool to assess your conflict style and access tips for conflict management and resolution at work.

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Mindy Haas is a Leadership and Team Coach, certified through the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Her experiences of discovering meaningful work led her to the coaching profession. Meet Mindy.

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