Make Conflict Your Organization’s Strategic Advantage

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Recently, I helped a nonprofit mediate an internal conflict. The conflict involved people who were avoiding each other, because of the conflict.

People often avoid each other because of conflict. However, when the employees are co-workers who need to work together, the cost of this avoidance can be high, on morale, collaboration and productivity.

Alas, workplace conflict can be triggered from anywhere, and everywhere; a co-worker’s “innocent” remark, frustration over a poorly run meeting, disagreement with a union rep, your manager’s indiscretion, self-criticism, a client’s complaint, a phone call from a distressed family member… the list goes on.

I have my own list of conflict triggers; triggers that, if not effectively dealt with, can suck me into a conflict in a bad way. Don’t we all?

The Conflict Advantage

Organizations in which conflict is handled competently, from top to bottom of the organization, have a strategic advantage.

These conflict competent organizations have a reputation; a good one. They reflect a healthy workplace. They speak to the “better” side of people. They attract today’s top talent.

People want to work in these conflict competent organizations. They’ve heard that employees who work there are engaged in their work, that there is mutual respect and support, and that management leads by example.

The organization prospers.

How Your Organization Can Create a Conflict Advantage

My view is that conflict competent organizations are developed through individual skills, authentic leadership, and conflict management structures.

Individual skills

On the individual level, everyone has to answer this question, “When I’m faced with conflict, how will I respond?”

Destructive responses escalate workplace conflict; relationships suffer, service levels decline, costs increase. Constructive responses de-escalate conflict; they enhance collaboration, employee engagement and loyalty, and workplace productivity.

Individuals who respond constructively to conflict are conflict competent. They are self-aware, and communicate through safe, positive, and productive conversation. These attributes are what the leader can help promote.

Authentic Leadership

Culture starts at the top of the organization. You want a respectful workplace? Start at the top. Nobody will buy into a ‘conflict advantage’ message if the person at the top isn’t walking their talk.

For a detailed take on conflict competent leadership, I recommend Runde & Flanagan’s, “Becoming a Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively. I use their ideas and tools, extensively.

Conflict Management Structures

Organization leaders are also positioned to put the supports, guides and enablers, in-place, to help individuals respond to conflict, constructively.

The Workplace Fairness Institute provides and excellent model (disclosure: I’m an affiliate) in how organizations can manage different types of workplace conflict.  Their model incorporates an array of proactive and reactive solution options, for both union and non-union workplaces.

Flip the Switch

If conflict avoidance is holding you and/or your organization back, flip the switch, reframe: see conflict as an opportunity, for personal and organizational growth, and strategic advantage.

Advantage: conflict. Your serve.


[Collaborative Journeys provides conflict management services for small to medium-sized businesses, nonprofits and local governments. Contact Ben for a free consultation.]

[image source: Kurhan on 123rf]

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