Conflict, arguments, differences of opinion. These are things you'd generally try to avoid in the workplace. Things tend to break down a bit when everyone's at each other's throats, having a barney. But there are positive ways we can disagree.

When conflict is unhealthy, it can damage your company culture, reputation and productivity. Left unresolved, the bad kind of conflict can have consequences for all involved:

  • Increased stress
  • Disrupted work
  • Wasted time
  • Damaged relationships
  • Increased staff turnover
  • Poor customer experience

However, there is a healthier kind of conflict resolution in the workplace which, when used well and managed, can actually improve outcomes for your business. It can push people to challenge ideas, and think outside the box. Creativity is often borne from friction, and that's something you want to encourage.

How to minimise unhealthy conflict

Preventing unhealthy conflict doesn't need to be an arduous process, and there are some simple things you can do to prevent it from becoming a serious issue.

Set clear expectations

It's important that your team knows what's acceptable and what isn't. Establishing reasonable, clear boundaries will help keep your teams happier.

Creating a short behaviour guide can be really helpful. This way, you can eliminate the grey areas and everyone knows where they stand.

Something dead simple, like a paragraph or two on 'how we communicate with each other' could be really useful to keep people on track.

All feedback goes in the #Feedback channel on Slack? Be honest and open but only behind closed doors? Say what you mean but don't be an absolute 🍆 about it? These are all simple enough guidelines without having to write a massive document on what people can and can't say. But it will guide your culture in the right direction, and you can refer to it in future when discussions are starting to get a little heated.  

These guidelines don't necessarily have to be dictated by your leadership team alone. If you collaborate with your team to develop these company values, you can help everyone bond, make your employees feel valued and nurture a healthier company culture.

Minimise stress

You can't deny that stressed employees are more likely to be uptight and sensitive, which increases the risk of an office argument occurring. Research indicates that long-term health conditions like stress are behind more than half of health-related absences in small businesses. It's something all companies have to mitigate.

So what are your team's stress levels? What's stressing them out? What measures do you have in place to help with stress? What else can you do? There are some simple steps you can take, like:

  • Promoting a healthier work-life balance
  • Regulating their workloads
  • Avoiding micro-management
  • Make sure everyone's taking their holidays

Promote positive communication

Poor communication inevitably leads to more conflict. By taking the time to encourage openness in communication, you can really lower the likelihood of arguments flaring up.

Check in regularly with your team and ensure everyone is on the same page - you'll find it helps avoid miscommunication and resulting arguments.

Good leaders are great communicators. By giving regular feedback, you help your employees develop. Don't just limit feedback to performance reviews; incorporate it into everyday conversation. Informal chats and Slack messages work just as well as serious meetings.

You'll find folks are enlightened by the opportunity to vent their concerns and address issues before they get out of hand. Focus your feedback on creative development, rather than criticism - or at least keep it constructive. This podcast has some useful ideas on making such conflicts productive.

Encouraging constructive disagreement

If you've noticed that more people seem to be arguing at work these days, or a particular hot topic is getting everyone riled up, it may be time to intervene with a polite reminder of how things should be done.

Asking something like "do you folks need any assistance with this?" can give both parties the opportunity to take a step back and explain the source of their disagreement. It can help tempers simmer down a little, and everyone to get a bit of clarity on what's going on.

Your employees make your business. It makes sense that you help them work well together. You want a team with a variety of ideas to keep things vibrant and productive, but you don't want disagreements and conflict to damage the team's dynamic. By using these strategies, you should be more successful in keeping things a bit more peaceful in the workplace.