Your Teams Need Conflict to Succeed – the Key is How Leaders Handle it.
We can all remember a time when we disagreed with someone at work. Perhaps it was during a particularly stressful campaign, working with someone who had a personality that was seemingly opposite to your own. Or during a late night at the office. One with too many coffees and sugary snacks to see you through it. Emotions were running high. Tensions had reached boiling point. And you just snapped.
It happens to the best of us. That’s really true—conflict can be a sign that teams and employees are passionate about what they’re doing and what they believe in. Passionate about the goals and values of your organisation.
Arguments aren’t great, but that’s not necessarily the case with all conflict. It’s actually a component of—and integral to—effective organisational development and the success of a healthy team. But it all depends on how your leaders deal with it. And what are the top two leadership challenges? Having difficult conversations and managing conflict.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”—Albert Einstein, German Theoretical Physicist
What’s at Stake?
Everything, from the bottom line, to the leadership development of your managers and the psychological health of employees. Being a leader is more challenging than ever before and the need for deep human connections with employees has never been greater.
83% of employers believe attracting and retaining talent is a growing challenge. The average US company also suffers an annual turnover rate as high as 44%, costing businesses over $1 trillion annually.
Consider the following:
- 25% of employees have seen conflict result in sickness or absence.
- 9% have seen workplace conflict cause a project to fail.
- Only 22% think their bosses handle conflict well.
- 58% of people trust strangers more than their own manager.
- 27% have experienced bullying, intimidation or harassment
- 67% avoid colleagues due to negative feelings from conflict.
How do employees typically respond to unresolved conflict? One in five seek another job and one in ten go through formal procedures. A quarter just let it go, but suffer 39% less commitment and motivation, and 14% lower productivity.
Lack of Conflict Causes Stagnation
You don’t want screaming arguments in the office, but that doesn’t mean you should be on a mission to completely eradicate all conflict at work. Many people and organisations go to great efforts to avoid it. But it’s a perfectly natural occurrence when you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with the same people.
Teams who focus too much on keeping things agreeable and harmonic don’t let themselves explore innovative or positive disruptive thoughts. This sort of ‘group-think’ can alienate the team members who tend to think differently and outside the box. Yet some of the greatest ideas the world has ever seen have come from these sorts of personalities.
Many organisations label certain personalities as ‘difficult’ or ‘a problem’. That’s the negative, destructive way of looking at things. Separating or scolding these personalities like children, moving desks and ignoring the problem won’t do anyone any good. It makes rifts even bigger and you’ll find your innovators heading for the door.
To perform well in an increasingly diverse workplace, we need to turn our attention inwards and learn to work with our psychological opposites. We are living in what has been termed the era of hope and happiness. We all require meaning, opportunities, good relationships, and an optimistic mindset.
5 Ways Organisations Can Benefit from Conflict
In the words of author, Mary Case, “No pressure, no diamonds.” Too much conflict and people become frustrated, demotivated, and just want to avoid the problem or scroll through Instagram. But a little bit of conflict can work wonders—have you ever felt a rush of adrenaline as a deadline approached, and ended up producing something great? When handled effectively, conflict also:
- Encourages different perspectives and agile learning. No one should feel scared to speak up at work. The best ideas are born of diverse thinking, taking different cultures, experiences and skillsets into account.
- Highlights employee strengths and weaknesses. That goes for managers, too, with regard to leadership development. Conflict will highlight any potential issues to be nipped in the bud, where processes or people are concerned.
- Can develop trust. Teams unify when they can rely on each other to be honest and respect everyone’s feelings and viewpoints.
- Helps teams and organisations reach better decisions. Debate means that teams explore all areas and it helps to create an environment that fosters innovation, creative disruption and collaboration. It’s how organisations can gain a competitive edge.
- Builds commitment. No employer wants their employees to show up like begrudging kids at school, waiting for the bell to ring at the end of the day. The key to engaging employees is making everyone feel like an integral cog whose ideas are heard and valued.
“The better able team members are to engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret, and respond constructively, the more likely their teams are to leverage conflict rather than be levelled by it.”—Runde and Flanagan, US Authors
Workplace Conflict Must Be Actively Explored
If conflict is ignored, it can poison every area of the business. It must be dealt with constructively and directly. Yet a shocking 58% of managers haven’t received any management training at all. What’s more, leaders who lack confidence in conflict resolution can end up making things worse by taking sides, ignoring problems, or dictating solutions.
According to the 2015 Investors in People/TBR report, the cost of poor people management is £84 billion per year in the UK alone. However, a psychometric personality test such as Lumina Spark can help leaders to close the gap between their good intentions and their actual impact. It can help them to view themselves and others without bias, and work with all aspects of their personality.
After all, workplaces can be a minefield of ecosystems, dynamics and agendas. However, the best leaders know that the most authentic relationships only blossom after experiencing tension. Leaders who are focused purely on peacekeeping and being well-liked by employees will end up creating a culture with distrust at its core. The managers that employees like, respect and engage with? The responsible ones.
“Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.”—Bill Bradley, US Politician
Securing a Competitive Edge
What’s more, customer retention rates are 18% higher on average when employees are highly engaged. Plus, companies that increase their number of talented managers and double the rate of engaged employees achieve, on average, 147% higher earnings per share than their competition.
Lumina Leader increases managers’ awareness of how their personality determines their unique leadership style. It shows them how to maximise strengths and lead with authenticity, while adapting to the needs of their teams and organisation. It’s focused on four balanced domains of leadership: Leading with Drive, Leading to Deliver, Leading through People, and Leading with Vision.
The optional Lumina Leader 360 review gives leaders the opportunity to see themselves through others’ eyes. It lets leaders rate themselves and then gives others the chance to rate the leader. This encourages managers to tackle their career blockers and become more versatile and resilient when dealing with times of change and with different personalities. It motivates every member of a team and helps to reduce employee turnover.
When Different Personalities Clash
It could be about anything: disagreement over how to handle a task, a fight over resources, about a promotion or an absence, or lack of support. A communication breakdown, insecurity, jealousy, irritation. Or even something outside of work. What’s interesting is that 61% of people citing workplace conflict in the last year report a lack of respect.
44% of all workplace conflict happens because of differences in personality or styles of working. However, it’s these differences that help teams achieve better results than anyone could on their own. With a better understanding of each other’s inner workings—how they deal with problems, their conflict style and range of behaviours—every person can play to each other’s strengths. Everyone can balance weaknesses and realise their full potential.
“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”—William Ellery Channing, US Theologist
Nothing in life or at work is straightforward. That includes human nature. We can all embody seemingly opposite personality traits at the same time and be extroverted and introverted in different circumstances. Our innovative personality test, Lumina Spark, helps teams to embrace the paradox. It uncovers practical actions for improved communication, teamwork and leadership.
A personality test like Lumina Spark accelerates collaboration, creativity and problem-solving, while reducing costs for organisations. It reveals an individual’s whole personality, providing an accurate and unique portrait of who they really are, their strengths and developmental areas. Whether you’re the CEO or a new recruit, Lumina Spark increases self-awareness and understanding of others, and helps people to cope better under pressure.
Taking a Humanistic Approach
Being a manager is about bringing different personalities together and guiding and developing them in the right direction. It’s about agile learning and identifying opportunities where others just see a problem; strengths where others only see weaknesses. Managers need to grasp the opportunities within conflict before it becomes destructive chaos. This requires self-awareness and a thorough understanding of the different personalities within their teams.
Our advanced psychometrics reveal people’s dynamic personality and empower them with the skills and mindset required for success. They are tools designed to ignite curiosity and empower individuals to develop themselves. By viewing people as “human beings” rather than “human doings”, we at Lumina Learning help organisations transform their performance by transforming their people.
“To add value to others, one must first value others.”—John Maxwell, US Author
Empowering Leaders Through Learning
It’s not just about saying the right placating words. Managers can’t just drop an inspirational quote, and then the mike, and leave the room expecting everyone in it to get along perfectly from that moment on. Everybody is different and needs a different approach.
Leadership development requires managers to continually work on their emotional intelligence and self-awareness, in order to help teams with theirs. They need to keep the bigger picture in focus; to be aware of problems that need addressing and of how to properly handle them before they become unmanageable.
Lumina Spark inspires leaders and their teams to develop skills most needed in the workplace—adaptability, agile learning, a growth mind-set, partnering, authenticity and the ability to lead themselves and others. In one tool, it provides three lenses that assess your underlying persona, your everyday persona, and your overextended persona, to give you consistent insights into your whole personality and remove the need for additional tests. This is incredibly helpful when it comes to new hires, too. With Lumina Spark, you can know exactly who someone is, and select, onboard and develop them in one complete solution.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”—John F. Kennedy, US President
What Does Healthy Conflict Look Like?
Conflict is healthy when everyone feels safe and confident to share their opinions and ideas. When no one is on the attack or defence. Good conflict is a constructive debate, without any heated words, passive aggression or judgement, where people respect and learn from each other to move forward. “I understand your thought process, but I disagree because…” Healthy conflict strengthens relationships, rather than destroying them. Why? Because it’s about the problem, not anyone’s ego. It’s healthy when everyone is working together towards a common objective—growth.
The sort of workplace conflict that you should be wary of? The unspoken sort. The sort that festers into quiet resentment and snarky comments, and chips away at employee motivation and team morale. The sort that inspires team mutiny and a quiet disobeying of orders or deviation from tasks. It will simmer until it erupts one day in an explosive outburst in a meeting or by the photocopier.
Taking a granular approach with Lumina Spark and measuring traits individually means you can have deep and empowering conversations that are truly unique to those in the dialogue rather than applying a one size fits all approach to employees. It helps to build a bridge between managers and teams.
8 Steps to Help Managers with Conflict Resolution
Identifying, respecting and valuing each other’s individual traits and differences is central to building the strongest teams. In order to incite healthy conflict and resolve it effectively, managers must:
- Create a conflict-positive culture, where everyone’s value is understood and respected. Conflict can make people feel insecure about sharing concerns and about their place in an organisation. Managers need to provide stability and reassurance; to be clear on goals, roles, and help everyone feel that their efforts are appreciated. Understanding how their contributions affect the big picture will keep individuals motivated, too. Teams must understand that constructive conflict with different personalities and agile learning can incite the best ideas. When things get heated, it’s easy to forget that we’re all in the same boat. A focus on organisational development will increase strength and creativity.
- Acknowledge the conflict. Managers shouldn’t ever try to ignore or sweep it under the rug, however trivial the conflict may seem. Or ask other colleagues to “have a word” with their friend because a manager doesn’t want to involve themselves in ‘office politics’. Some leaders imagine that doing so might save an employee’s feelings in the short run, but it’s a recipe for long-run disaster. Managers should learn to identify destructive patterns and relationships.
- Stop conflict when it gets out of hand. Conflict needs to be immediately dealt with in order to grow into something positive. Managers must put a stop to potential damage that shouting, defensiveness, insults, blaming and manipulation will cause. That goes for leaders during resolution, too—that’s no way to handle conflict and employees will lose their trust in them. It’s best to initiate discussion right away rather than waiting a few days to address the situation.
- Get a clear picture. During instances of miscommunication, managers need all the facts, thoughts, and feelings to handle resolution effectively. Encouraging people to explain themselves may provide some clarity. It’s important to remain neutral and ask lots of ‘why’ questions to get to the heart of the issue. No bias or jumping to conclusions. Just active listening. After all, reflection is an essential managerial skill.
- Find common ground and repair foundations. Help everyone to see and value other sides. Discuss how the conflict has impacted relationships and individuals. Instead of, “Why are you doing this?” managers should ask questions that inspire camaraderie: “What can we all agree on?” “What are you hoping for in this conversation?” Questions that turn miscommunication or disconnection into an opportunity to build trust, better understand each other, and uncover solutions. Lumina Spark provides a clear language with precise and non-judgemental meaning. One that makes difficult conversations more comfortable to have, in a way that everyone understands.
- Suit conflict resolution to different personalities. Everyone deals with conflict differently. Some might prefer to sit down and get to the heart of the matter with the other person. Others might want to speak one-on-one with their manager. Conflict involves our emotions, perceptions and resulting actions, so we must examine every aspect of ourselves to properly deal with it. A personality test like Lumina Spark helps managers to tailor resolution to each individual.
- Nurture relationships. Managers shouldn’t have to intervene every week. And those interventions shouldn’t be the only exchanges. Relationships need care and self-management is increasingly important. They must help employees to identify any behavioural tendencies and maintain self-awareness. Managers should check in with their people regularly, whether it’s a compliment on a project or a chat in the kitchen.
- Celebrate conflict resolution together. Managers must relay their appreciation for each person’s contribution. It could be an office email or an early finish for some congratulatory drinks. As long as it shows employees how constructive conflict and respecting and valuing each other’s differences can bring people closer together and create a healthier working environment. Regularly rewarding this sort of behaviour will encourage it to become habit, too.
Whether it’s a dramatic spat or an ongoing difficult relationship, avoiding conflict resolution can have serious consequences for an organisation. It stunts your organisational development, impacts your bottom line, divides and destroys your teams and people, and wastes the valuable time and energy of management and HR.
Conflict is an emotional thing, and we are all different. It’s essential to alter our negative perception of workplace conflict and grasp the opportunities it presents. By equipping managers and teams with increased self-awareness and understanding of each other, organisations can empower every individual to unleash their hidden potential. Lumina Spark gives organisations a clear roadmap for employee and leadership development.
It provides teams with the tools to be able to identify when things aren’t working and offers insight into why, and how to fix it. It teaches everybody a language that dispels tension and helps people to support each other’s strengths and work better together. A language that helps everyone see difficulties as opportunities, to achieve more for your organisation.