The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Conflict in the Workforce

When people think of conflict in the workforce, they often think of shouting, swearing, passive aggression, tantrums and other such lovely facets of human interaction. However, conflict not only can be a good thing, but a vital ingredient of a healthy and productive work environment.

This might be a new concept to you. If you know how to recognise the differences between good and bad conflict, you’ll be better equipped to facilitate the good kind in the work place. The kind of conflict that leads to growth and improved productivity.  

Good Conflict

Conflict is often uncomfortable, but sometimes necessary. Good conflict comes from a mutual commitment to organizational goals and the desire to come up with the ideal solution. This promotes challenge, interest in the issues at hand, and increased effort from all parties. Without this type of conflict an organisation will stagnate.

Good conflict requires communication, trust and support, humility, patience, and the ability to accept responsibility.

Good conflict will stimulate discussions in a way that encourages creative problem-solving and out-of-the-box thinking. That is, so long as conflict is approached in a healthy way. In other words, not in a way that leads to a situation where no one is really listening to each other because they’re more concerned with getting their own egos.

Bad conflict

As most of us are aware of, there is an ugly side to conflict, which, aside from simply making for an unpleasant working environment, stifles imagination and productivity. Where positive conflict is creative, negative conflict is destructive.

Badly managed conflict makes for a team that simply can’t work together effectively, as communication channels are distorted and there is no sense of teamwork.

A humorous example of bad conflict is when Ukrainian MP’s from opposing parties get together, start blaming each other for issues in their country, and get into a full on brawl – right in their Kiev Parliament.

Facilitating good conflict

One way to avoid negative conflict is to find ways that will allow everyone to ‘win’. Generally, conflict results in one side ‘winning’ at the expense of another. Conflict can be unhealthy in scenarios where there is a clear-cut winner and loser.  

Encouraging healthy conflict in your workforce isn’t always easy, and sometimes requires conflict management training.

It might feel like you’re walking across a tightrope, trying to stay balanced while several monkeys tug at you in different directions. Those pesky monkeys are the different goals, temperaments and directions everyone has. Don’t let those monkeys get the best of you.


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