Conflict in the workplace is inevitable.  In fact, I would suggest that organisations that say they have no conflict are not being honest with themselves. Moreover, when this happens, it is likely that the conflict is hidden.  What happens then is artificial harmony, in other words, conflict is going on but it is just hidden under the surface.  I believe this is which more damaging and results in hidden conflict behind the scenes.

Before I start on why I believe managers should use conflict as a lever for change, I just want to reinforce, that I am not talking about nasty bullying conflict.  This type of conflict has no place in any work environment.  We are seeing this recently in politics and it is nasty. What I am talking about is a good healthy debate which teams need to develop.  This type of conflict can be very productive and I know from personal experience that the best teams I have ever worked with worked better with some debate.

However, sometimes conflict does spill over into arguments and heavy debate regarding a workplace issue or in a way or manner of working.

Managers need to jump on this and the nearest opportunity and ask themselves the following:

Is this something we can use to change a way of working? – Conflict often manifests as a result of poor working practice and therefore we can use the conflict to improve something for the better.  Lack of communication is a classic example.

Has it highlighted something more deep-rooted? – of course, there may be other things going on including our behaviour as a manager.  I always think a great question to ask yourself is “Is this something I have created, what could I do better?”

When we realise we can use conflict effectively, it makes it not so scary.  Use conflict as a lever for change, and you will always be one step ahead of the conflict.  Once we are one step ahead we are always in front.

Ralph Moody is the founder of Target Training and specialises in trainer and management development.  You can read more about him here.  You can read more about the management courses Ralph delivers training on including the prestigious Foundation Management Development Programme (FMDP) here.