As Asians, we have a natural tendency to avoid engaging in workplace conflict. Engaging in conflict is seen as negative, disrespectful and would do more harm than good to our reputation.

But here’s what many folks don’t realize… not all conflict is bad.

For example: When team members give each other constructive criticism and raise alternative points of view in a respectful manner, that’s good conflict (productive conflict). This type of conflict encourages open-mindedness, and reduces groupthink.

If team members rudely talk over each other and start attacking each other personally, however, this brings about bad conflict (unproductive conflict). This destroys interpersonal relationships, hurts team morale, and affects overall productivity. This is the kind of conflict we want to avoid.

Bearing this in mind, your task as a leader, is to encourage productive conflict, while minimizing unproductive conflict.

How do you do this? Here are a few tips:

Firstly, embrace opposition, and emphasize that it’s okay to have differing viewpoints. At the end of the day, you don’t want your team members to agree with others for the sake of keeping the peace — this stifles creativity and innovation.

As George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

Secondly, strictly forbid personal attacks.

When we’re triggered into conflict, we automatically get defensive, and this makes it hard for us to have productive conversations.

Last but not least, teach your team to see positive intent.

Remind your team that everyone is working towards a common goal. Note that when a colleague becomes critical, they’re doing this in order to arrive at a better outcome.

If you get this right in the early part of team formation, you’ll help your team get through any “teething pains” that they might experience, allowing a higher level of productivity to be achieved more quickly.

To understand this better, consider Tuckman’s Model — which states that teams have to pass through four stages of development before they become a goal-oriented, cohesive unit.

These stages are:

  1. Forming (This is characterized by uncertainty, shyness and anxiousness)
  2. Storming (This marks the beginning of conflict and ambiguity)
  3. Norming (This is where team members shed their prejudices against each other and strive to work as a group)
  4. Performing (At this final and most productive stage, each team member starts to perform at their highest potential)

As a team leader, your overarching goal is to shorten the “storming” phase, and get your teams to the “performing” stage as quickly as possible.

A systematic way of doing this, our clients have found, is to use the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), a strengths-based profiling tool which provides insights for personal and team development.

One of the specialties of the SDI is providing individuals with insights into their own conflict styles & triggers. Subsequently, in a workshop setting, they learn how to better communicate effectively in light of the conflict styles & triggers of their peers.

How exactly does the SDI help with conflict management? On your workplace’ front…

  1. Employees learn to understand how their motives change during the stages of conflict and their conflict style.
  2. Employees understand each others hot buttons and potential conflict triggers.
  3. Team members who work together can better communicate and influence each other in the face of conflict, navigating tough situations.
  4. Leaders can better understand team dynamics by seeing everyone’s conflict styles plotted in the context of their group.

Basically, by mapping out how each person’s conflict triggers and how their contrast in communication styles affect how they handle conflict, the SDI allows people to relate to each other more effectively.

For leaders and managers: the SDI also gives you the insights you need to make the right adjustments. This ensures that your employees’ communication needs are met when conflict occurs.

To reiterate: We often perceive conflict as a bad thing, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Here’s to creating the right type of conflict… the type that maximizes creativity and results!