Conflict is normal and occurs in every aspect of our lives, yet it is especially prevalent in the workplace. In fact, a study commissioned by CPP, Inc. in partnership with OPP, Ltd. found that 85 percent of the study’s participants reported experiencing conflict in the workplace at “some level” and 29 percent reported experiencing conflict in the workplace “almost constantly.”

Although most people perceive conflict to be negative, conflict can be incredibly positive. When individuals and teams understand how to navigate conflict effectively and collaboratively, it can bring numerous benefits to every environment and relationship.

The following are just a few of the benefits one can harness through effective conflict management:

  • Increased understanding of others
  • Improved working relationships
  • Increased innovation in identifying solutions to problems or challenges
  • Improved team performance
  • Increased individual and team motivation

Of course, conflict can wreak havoc on an organization when it is not managed productively, causing high-stress emotions to increase while productivity plummets. There are numerous ways to respond to conflict — avoidance, aggression, compromise, etc. — and they all impact outcomes and relationships differently. When outcomes and relationships are of equal importance, as they usually are in a work environment, collaboration is the best approach.

Collaboration

The following recommendations from Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith’s book Resolving Conflicts at Work: Ten Strategies for Everyone on the Job provide insights into building a more collaborative environment and harnessing the benefits of conflict.

Six Tips for Increasing Collaboration in the Workplace

  1. Identify opportunities for growth and learning. When experiencing conflict, even the mildest form of disagreement, consider what needs to change in order to experience growth.
  2. Use empathy to understand the other party’s point of view. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, has identified three types of empathy, each of which help in fostering a collaborative work environment.
    1. Cognitive empathy: Cognitive empathy is knowing how another person feels, or “perspective-taking.” This form of empathy is highly effective at motivating people to apply their best efforts.
    2. Emotional empathy: Emotional empathy is truly feeling the emotion along with another individual. Emotional empathy is due to the activation of mirror neurons, which help individuals to be well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world.  Emotional empathy promotes bonding and attachment and can positively affect trust and loyalty.
    3. Compassionate empathy: Compassionate empathy involves the capability of understanding a person’s predicament and feeling with them along with the willingness to help if help is necessary.
  3. Seek ways for shared responsibility and for achieving all parties’ interest. Examine how relinquishing power might improve the outcomes of the relationship. Identify the underlying interests of parties and get curious about where there is common ground.
  4. Think beyond settlement. Too often the goal of conflict resolution is focused exclusively on resolving the immediate conflict at hand or reaching a quick settlement. Collaboration requires a commitment to meeting the needs of the underlying issues. Explore how to most effectively surface these issues.
  5. Provide empathetic and timely feedback. One of the greatest challenges to collaboration is respecting the other party’s need for empathetic and timely feedback. The workplace is a hectic environment and finding time to address conflict can be challenging. Make it a priority to provide truthful and constructive feedback in a timely enough manner to allow that feedback to still be relevant and actionable.
  6. Speak and act with integrity and clarity, without judgment. Collaboration is not a destination; it is a journey. Fostering a culture of collaboration requires a commitment to always providing clear communication, always acting with integrity and operating from a place of non-judgment. If these behaviors are not modeled consistently, they won’t be trusted when the stakes are high.

Every person has a default response to conflict — a style that comes most easily and readily. Because collaboration requires a level of skill few people have been taught and the time to allow for self-reflection, curiosity and exploration, it can be challenging to consistently implement. Employing a consultant to train and coach employees can increase workplace collaboration and have a significant impact on the bottom line by increasing employee engagement and, thus, productivity.

Robyn Short is a mediator with expertise in transformative mediation and restorative justice models for dispute resolution. Whether in a corporate, nonprofit, academic or home environment, Robyn assists parties in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. Robyn helps organizations through mediation, facilitation, onsite conflict training seminars, leadership training and dialogue circles. Learn more at www.RobynShort.com.