business career entrepreneur success

Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Viewing Conflict Negatively

Many managers think conflict is simply a headache. They do not consider it to have any productive qualities. People with this negative feeling of conflict often use extreme language when talking about it, describing conflict as:

  • Destructive — by using words such as warfare, battles, and casualties;
  • Uncontrolled or irrational — by talking about rage, or saying that someone has lost control;
  • Violent — by highlighting the pain, suffering, and wounds experienced by those involved in it.

People who hold a negative view of conflict interpret even minor disputes as dysfunctional. They may even be opposed to teamwork because they think it inevitably leads to disputes and problems. They believe that conflict is a negative force in the workplace. In this view, conflict involves the following characteristics:

  • Time-wasting — when conflict is viewed negatively, it is seen to be inefficient. Time spent having an argument is really a devious way to avoid work.
  • Detrimental effect on people — in this negative view, conflict is seen to cause stress. If people cannot say anything without having to justify it, then they are often tense and fearful of each other.
  • bunker mentality — if people feel obliged to avoid challenges, they become reluctant to discuss their opinions. They close up and operate in a defensive mode.

The traditional view of conflict in many organizations is that it is bad, and that it must be avoided and suppressed because it is unproductive. Companies also fear the effect that conflict will have on relationships between employees.

But when this negative view takes hold, employees fear conflict so much that they end up in either fight or flight mode, either attacking or running away from conflict. They are primed to be overly defensive, which makes them incapable of working together efficiently.

Viewing Conflict Positively

While some people do everything they can to avoid conflict, others believe that conflict is always a positive influence in the workplace.

This view is based on the idea that conflict is the natural human condition, and that everyone is dominated by survival instincts. The strong survive, but the weak do not, and so conflict is one of the most effective ways to sort the weak from the strong. This approach is often referred to as Social Darwinism, after Charles Darwin’s writings about the way that species evolved on Earth.