Boosting Communication in Conflict-Averse Teams

According to the CPP Global Human Capital Report, more than half of employees (57%) have experienced negative feelings following a conflict, including demotivation, anger, or frustration. Given the undesirable consequences that conflictual encounters can have in personal or professional settings, it is not surprising that many people can be inclined to avoid conflict.  

However, this is not necessarily a good thing for employees or organisations. When conflict is handled correctly and expressed in a healthy and constructive way, it can be beneficial to business success. According to conflict management practitioner Kari Boyle, there are five main advantages of healthy conflict in the workplace:  

  • Earlier Problem Identification 
  • Better Problem-Solving 
  • Healthy Relationships, Morale, and Commitment 
  • Improved Productivity 
  • Personal Growth and Insight 

Of courseorganisations will want to avoid unproductive conflict which can damage co-worker relationships and company culture. Symptoms of this kind of conflict can include bullying behaviours or rudeness. However, there are several possible interventions that organisations can consdier taking to help avoid this sort of conflict occurring and install the foundations of productive conflict. 

One initiative is to intentionally set behavioural guidelines and group norms so that everyone has a common blueprint for expressing disagreement in a respectful manner. Indeed, the way we phrase things is vitally important in conflictual situations – sometimes more so than the substance of what is being saidOne cause of conflicts entering unhelpful territory is when people feel personally singled out or attacked. As such, when disagreeing it can be useful to focus on the idea instead of the person who proposed it. One way of doing this is through certain language techniques, like using ´I´ instead of ´You.´ Additionally, remaining mindful of the shared purpose and what the team is trying to achieve together can be conducive to productive communication styles and tones. 

Some people can also shy away from expressing a dissenting view because they do not feel equipped to navigate conflictual situations effectively. Thus, training and education in conflict management and resolution strategies can be useful for all members of the team, as it can provide them with the tools and, in turn, the confidence to engage in healthy conflict. 

The company culture can also affect team communication and its relationship to conflict. It is important that organisations create a psychologically safe environment where colleagues feel comfortable to disagree, meaning that they do not worry about receiving backlash or facing negative consequences should their idea be rejected by others, or fail at a later stage. Leaders can play a role in building such an environment by encouraging employees to speak up and by inviting everyone to contribute. 

Ultimately, good communication and healthy conflict go hand in hand. In workplaces where divergent opinions are embraced, employees have the space to test their ideas, solve problems and innovate collectively – ingredients which spur business success and growth. 

References: 

  1. How to Encourage Meaningful, Needed Conflict at Work, July 2020, The Balance Careers. 
  2. 7 Steps for Keeping Conflict Healthy, May 2016, Entrepreneur.
  3. How To Improve Communication Among Conflict-Avoidant Teams, January 2021, Forbes.
  4. Productive vs. Unproductive Conflict in the Workplace, October 2020, Daily HR Advisor.