Workplace Conflict: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

By Mary White

Conflict exists.  This is a simple fact of life.  In any business or personal relationship of any depth, conflict will occur at times.  Conflict in and of itself is not bad.  Conflict is a neutral and natural occurrence.

Conflict has three elements.  The first element of conflict is the existence of a struggle of some type.  Secondly, the involved parties must have, or think they have, incompatible goals.  Lastly, there must be some degree of interdependence between the people who are involved.

Conflict can be constructive, and it can be destructive.  The distinction comes in terms of how it is managed.  What makes conflict positive or negative has to do with how it is managed by the people who are in conflict with each other.

Conflict can’t always be avoided, and shouldn’t always be avoided.  Many positive outcomes can result from working through conflict.  Properly managed conflict can lay the groundwork for constructive change.

Positive Outcomes of Conflict

Coworkers who are able to successfully use conflict management strategies to solve problems in the workplace tend to become a more cohesive and unified work group.  When a group of people works together through the process of resolving a disagreement in a constructive manner, the group is likely to be more committed to the decision that is reached as well as to the group itself.

Working through conflict can create fresh insights that result in unique solutions.  Often, the solutions that arise from conflict are better and more creative solutions than would have developed if everyone had been in agreement from the beginning.  Effective conflict management can result in both enhanced overall productivity in addition to the accomplishment of goals.

Negative Outcomes of Conflict

When all parties involved in a struggle aren’t willing to work toward a solution that will resolve the struggle in a positive manner, it is very likely that negative outcomes associated with the conflict will occur.  Not only is it difficult or impossible to resolve a struggle when conflict is not managed well, poor conflict management also can permanently damage co-worker relationships and group dynamics.

When conflict is managed poorly in the workplace, there is little chance of reaching effective resolutions to the problem situations that are sure to arise.  When conflict is poorly managed, people tend to dig in their heels and refuse to listen to any suggestions that differ from what they see as the best solution.  There is a general climate of negativity characterized by a lack of give and take. The parties involved tend to choose sides and divide into sub groups based on which side they choose.

The consequences of poorly managed conflict are directly opposite the likely outcomes of conflict that is managed well.  When conflict is managed poorly in a work environment, members of the team are likely to be less committed to the group and its decisions.  People who work in environments where conflict isn’t managed effectively tend to exhibit both low job satisfaction and reduced productivity. The overall culture of the group or organization tends to be very negative.

Buy Rights to Reprint this Article

Do you want to use this article in your company newsletter or use it for a staff development meeting? You can purchase rights to print this article (one time use only in your newsletter or meeting hand-out) for only $20. Contact us to request use of this article...