Cultivate your Conflict Competency

Conflict…if the mere word elicits feelings of dread or anxiety, you are not alone.  Conflict is often stigmatized as being overtly ‘bad’ or to be avoided, and it is with good reason.  As humans, we have been socialized from infancy to be ‘good’, amenable, and to avoid provoking or engaging in conflict.  While proper socialization was essential for the survival of our species the complete absence of conflict or disagreement can result in equally dire outcomes.

‘Conflict competence’ is the ability to develop and use cognitive, emotional, and behavioural skills that enhance productive outcomes of conflict while reducing the likelihood of escalation or harm.

In the work environment, there is no such utopia, such as complete conflict avoidance. However, healthy disagreement within appropriate rules of engagement and boundaries can often lead to more robust solutions and improved teamwork.

Cultivating the space for building ‘conflict competence’ in the workplace requires very clear, well-established and agreed-upon norms of behaviour and equally clearly defined examples of what is not acceptable.   To proactively develop your ability to engage in conflict that results in productive outcomes you must be willing to do the following:

  • Prepare, define the outcome you desire
  • Respect, follow the rules of engagement
  • Recognize, and address your own bias
  • Introspect, consider your role in the scenario
  • Avoid, personalizing when possible
  • Consider, the alternative view and its merits
  • Compromise, be willing to move your stance
  • Reaffirm, the new way forward

A safe environment where peers, teams and leaders feel supported and encouraged to speak their minds without fear of negative consequences and with the end goal of fostering better ways of working can improve team dynamics and recreate stronger interpersonal bonds, but only if the motivation remains focused on an equitable and healthy outcome.