In a perfect world, people would not argue or hold grudges. They would not allow their passions to blind them from seeing the true intentions of other individuals. Unfortunately, people are not perfect, we are flawed, yet dynamic creatures, and as a result, there is conflict in the workplace.
But is that really unfortunate? People like to think of an environment in which there are no arguments, disputes or conflicting opinions as an ideal one, but rarely in nature do societies exist where there are not two conflicting forces. Take, for example, beavers. Beaver dams obstruct rivers and create major changes in local ecosystems, but at the same time, they have such a prolific effect on the natural environment that they often create a better, more protected ecosystem. The dams are disruptive forces, but at the same time, they create change that can be beneficial in the long haul.
Conflict: The force of change in the office
Much like the great outdoors, business environments often function in the same way. There will naturally be conflicting forces at play – two departments that are both in need of resources, two people with conflicting ideology, two workers with jobs that naturally pit them against each other (think risk manager and product designer) and so on. To expect there not to be conflict is unrealistic and companies should focus more on how to resolve conflict and less on preventing them in the first place.
"If [conflicts] happen all the time, can a company spend time resolving them or keep looking out for signs of conflict?" asked Business Insider contributor Preetam Kaushik. "The answer is no. Because, when there is a conflict, it certainly means there is a competitive environment. As long as the competition is delivering desirable results, which are positive to a large extent, there is no need for intervention."
Conflicts only become a problem when they become destructive to an environment. Just as beaver dams can lead to property damage through the flooding of nearby areas, conflicts can spill over boundaries and get personal or spread to others who do not need to be involved. Unmitigated conflicts can at best be distractions and at worst negatively affect business operations and employee morale and engagement.
Knowing when to intervene is key for conflict resolution
Not all conflicts need a leader in order to resolve them. In fact, managers who think that often wind up spending so much time trying to put out fires they hinder their ability to do their own jobs successfully (and that in itself can lead to a conflict).
At the same time, managers cannot ignore conflicts and keep to themselves, hoping everything will work itself out. If disputes ever start becoming hostile, that is when managers need to step in to prevent the conflict from affecting other areas of operation. The key for leaders is being able to recognize when and where they need to step in and become a mediator and when to let things figure themselves out.