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Why Conflict belongs in the workplace

Most people are very uncomfortable in the presence of conflict, and being in conflict at work is extra stressful. So with this impact, why would it beneficial in the workplace?

Our workplaces are hubs in which diverse people come together and work together on common objectives and goals. In our work communities, we are exposed to a mix of generations, cultures, personality types, ways of thinking, preferences and much more.


With an increased focus on being more intentional about diversity in our work environment, there will be an increase in exposure to people that look, think differently and have different work styles.


To this diverse environment, we add everyday pressures of our personal lives, of meeting our objectives and goals at work, the fast-paced changes in business and, of course, the uncertainty of the pandemic.


Taking the above into consideration and acknowledging the many efforts to deepen inclusion in the workplace, we need to create space for conflict to occur in the workplace.


It serves leaders and staff members to take a different perspective on how to handle conflict. Before we move on please note:


  • This is not about taking an apathetic or irresponsible stance toward conflict in the workplace and letting it run amok.

  • This is also not about allowing unskilful and disrespectful conflict to destroy working relationships.

  • It is also not about making bullying and other forms of shutting people down acceptable.


It is quite the opposite, it is about understanding conflict as a part of creative processes in your organisation, in which the limiting or out-of-date status quo is skilfully disrupted to keep your organisation aligned to its purpose and mission and remain innovative on its evolutionary journey.


We urgently need to find better ways of working together and building capacity in our work culture to welcome differing and diverging views to be heard and acknowledged around the table. This is essential in resolving conflict, power struggles and unresolved and unskilful tensions in the workplace.


Culture is the meta-tool supporting this process of inclusion. To create the right conditions which is a mix of safety, empathy, courage, vulnerability, inquiry and playfulness so that all views and feelings find expression at the table.


This is an invitation to view conflict as a signal of new and vital information emerging. It is an opportunity for something new to be discovered in teams, departments and organisations.


This more curious and open approach to be skilful with conflict changes the way we view and relate to conflict and deal with it in a more helpful way.


We will not be able to avoid conflicting situations. What is available to us is to embrace conflict with a new mindset, new skills and meta-skills.


Moving forward with the intention to create workplaces in which conflict is embraced and dealt with constructively requires a systemic approach.


If the culture has struggled for years with poor communication and collaboration and impacted by toxicity, the shift will take months and possibly much longer.


The first things that need to be in place for this shift to have a chance is for the team or organisation to create a clear identity:

  • a compelling why (purpose),

  • compelling values (who we choose to be) and,

  • a compelling goal (what are we going to achieve).

Without a clear and compelling direction and a sturdy hand on the rudder, the status quo will always find itself back in the main seat. Always.


What can be done with where you are right now?


(1) Acknowledge the impact of unresolved conflict in your workplace.


(2) Create a platform where people have a safe place to be courageous and start conversations about conflict. This should be done without blaming. The intent of these meetings needs to be set very clearly.


(3) Shifting mindsets to see conflict as part of a creative process in diverse teams and organisations and avoiding these 3 causes of conflict.


(4) Allow teams and departments to co-create agreements around how they want to be when conflict occurs. What are the new norms that will allow conflict to be a part of the creative processes? Co-creation acknowledges the diversity in the team and ensures buy-in and alignment.


(5) Nurture the meta-skill (or emotional stance) of Curiosity versus Certainty.


(6) Put relationships front and centre of all engagements and transaction in your team or organisations with the intention to strengthen these, even, or especially when conflicts arise.


(7) Bring in a systemic team coach to train and coach your teams and departments to integrate Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI™). RSI enables teams to be self-organising, share leadership across the team and be agile in creating ways of working that evolve with the speed of change. Here RSI is explored in my ebook on High Performance)

RSI™ is the ability to maximise one’s relationship with a group, team or system and to relate to it as a whole. Teams with high RSI are more productive and report greater team cohesion and satisfaction than teams with lower RSI™. (Offerman, Bailey et al 2004)


Leading and working with principles RSI™ enables leaders and their teams to create a strong sense of belonging in teams, which provide the organisation with the agility and resilience needed to work with complexity, conflict resolution and uncertainty.


RSI™ provides the tools and skills that are taught under the 5 principles of RSI™ which invite as much diversity as possible to conversations, problem-solving and design sessions. It invites teams to work with what is emerging which builds capacity for creativity in complexity. It invites leaders and their teams to lean into complexity and change as an integral part of work vs being resistant, overwhelmed and depleted.


Are you interested in exploring more about the power of Relationship Systems Intelligence? Let’s find some time to have a conversation.

No obligations, just a helpful exchange


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