Everyone who has ever worked in an office knows that no workplace is ideal. Especially in the digital age, where the majority of work includes interpersonal communication, negotiations and deadlines, the workflow has been sped up, and along with it, expectations have become higher.
Employee’s race to meet deadlines, and in that fray, tensions build up and cause sparks to fly, whether actively or passively. This results in conflicts, and we often perceive them as a negative thing.
However, in certain aspects, conflicts are good, educational. So how exactly can you recognize the advantages and disadvantages, to be able to respond accordingly?
Advantage – Practice expression
When you find yourself (or others) in a conflict situation, the crucial thing to keep in mind is to be open to the other person’s opinion. When we learn to step into someone else’s shoes and try to understand their viewpoint, we evolve our communication skills. And just as important listening and understanding are, so is the ability to express our own needs. One needs to perfect a pacifist, inclusive vocabulary that will not alienate or deride the opposing opinion. This, however, takes time and actual conflict experiences, most of which will fail, because no two people are the same, which is why the approach itself evolves.
Disadvantage – Inter-team tension
When tensions flare up between employees, it is bound to affect the entire team, in one way or another. A clear disadvantage of workplace conflicts is that they can divide teams into supporting sides and make them active participants in the tensions that had built up, even though the problem in question doesn’t really affect them. Or, on the other hand, some teammates will alienate themselves and take no part in resolving the conflict. This can be avoided by keeping the conflict only among the “feuded parties”, and finding a way to solve the issue before it starts affecting other employees.
Advantage – Learn about people and ways of communicating
One rarely mentioned advantage of workplace conflicts is the rare opportunity to learn about people’s behaviour and communication patterns. Only in the workplace are we exposed to a large number of people at one time, for several hours a day (if not more). From our own problematic situations and witnessing others’, we get a unique opportunity to learn how differently people express their needs, displeasure and concerns. This is, in fact, an invaluable life skill, and once it is mastered in the workplace, no other conflict situation will be unsolvable.
Disadvantage – The Winner-Loser issue
The famous Dale Earnhardt moniker – second place is just the first loser – might just as well be applied in workplace conflict, from the point of view of the parties involved. Usually, when the issues have been solved, both sides seem to get what they want. However, it’s not always perceived that way. One side will always be happier about the outcome than the other. This may leave them with unresolved tension, and serve as a foundation for the next conflict. Professional mediation agencies like Hawke Segal strongly advise that you find the most diplomatic solution possible that leaves no room for interpretations of losing sides or favouritism.
Advantage –Better than Ignoring
As tempting as it may be, ignoring tensions and stresses between employees is perhaps the worst approach one can have. Believing the problems will go away if they are not acknowledged as existent will simply leave the negative emotions to simmer until something triggers an all-out fight.
Acknowledging there is an unresolved issue and supporting a peaceful resolution of the budding conflict helps nip the problem in the bud before it becomes a company-wide problem. People get the opportunity to identify the issue and express their opinions, something that wouldn’t be able where the situation was ignored.
Disadvantage – Time-consuming
Perhaps one of the most tiring disadvantages (to call it that way), is the loss of precious company time. Issues concerning the workplace need to be solved there as well, and not in private so that human resources or team managers can have some control over streamlining the conflict. However, this requires quite a bit of resources, booking offices for one-on-one consultations, takes up the manager’s time that could be spent on the project at hand, and takes employees away from their work. Not to mention it can be a major distraction. Efficiency is key when this happens, and the less time spent on resolving the conflict, the better it is for the project.
The workplace can be a hive of tension and stress, especially during deadlines and with demanding clients. Confrontations between employees are, of course, not desirable, but they are far from an absolutely negative thing. In fact, as many drawbacks, as there are, conflicts offer just as many advantages: learning how people perceive certain situations, learning how to listen and express oneself, finding the fine middle ground where both parties can be satisfied, to a certain point. Trying to perceive workplace conflicts as a unique learning experience is half the battle towards self-improvement and successful resolution.
About Your Guest Blogger: Hannah Thomas is an expert in business innovation and management with a love for writing. She is always eager to learn new things and to share the knowledge she acquired along the way.