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Workplace Conflict: Sometimes Good, Most Times Bad

by Rick Baker
On Mar 6, 2017

A couple of years ago I wrote an article titled, We are too tolerant of conflict!

Now, I’d like to re-title that article, “We are too tolerant of bad conflict!”

The 2015 article contained:

Often, we find ourselves in situations of conflict because:

1. we lack self-confidence and, as a result of that, we behave either too timidly or too aggressively and

2. we are too lazy to figure out how to avoid conflict or nip conflict in the bud when we know it has commenced.

We are too tolerant of conflict.

Some people even promote conflict in the workplace because they view it as a good, healthy and productive way to communicate, make decisions, and delegate tasks.

That's interesting in many negative directions!

The results the conflict promoters achieve at their businesses prove it is a high-risk-low-reward strategy.

Recently a number of friends have raised the topic of workplace conflict. It is interesting to note their viewpoints have all been in the zone of promoting conflict in the workplace because they view it as good, healthy and productive. As these conversations swirled, I listened intently. In particular, I listened for examples that would help me understand, specifically, ‘How’ good, healthy, and productive workplace conflict occurred…or, better still, was orchestrated or managed. 

Yes – at the conceptual level diversity of thought/opinion is good, healthy and productive. And, we know when the stakes are high and emotions are heating up diversity of thought/opinion can lead to conflict. So, [the good thing] diversity of thought/opinion can lead to workplace conflict. Whether that workplace conflict is good or bad depends on a number of things. As examples:

  • Tolerance – in the event one or more of the conflicting parties is intolerant of the other party [in any way, including general prejudices or specific ‘negative’ experiences] it is highly unlikely the conflict will lead to good things.
  • Self-confidence – as introduced above, individual’s self-confidence is a critical success factor in situations of workplace conflict...and in life. Self-confidence is not a constant: like Goldilocks’ porridge, sometimes it is too hot, sometimes it is too cold, and sometimes it is just right. When self-confidence is too hot or bloated conflict tends to escalate into unproductive territory. When self-confidence is too cold or injured conflict tends to reach a unilateral resolution and disagreement remains but is hidden, stewing on a back burner.

Tolerance and self-confidence are but two considerations. There are many others. If we want workplace conflict to generate positive, constructive results that take us toward our desired goals then we must do much more than just talk about the value embedded in diversity of thought/opinion and the merits of workplace conflict. We must dig deep to understand the factors that, likely before the beginning of conflict but definitely by the end of the conflict, determine whether conflict time and effort was well or poorly spent. We must understand the Why behind conflict-thought/opinions and know the How of guiding conflict-action before we can pave the path for valuable and productive results. And, there’s no better starting point than self-confidence, beginning with analysis of self. 


Emotions & Feelings @ Work | Personalities @ Work | Values: Personal Values

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