Conflict & Opposition – What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between conflict and opposition, specifically when it comes to workplace relationships?

I recently was in a meeting with a client, and we were talking about the cost of conflict in his organization.  I asked him what he thought was causing all the workplace conflict in his organization.

His response was very true and interesting, but at the same time somewhat scary!  

He said… “We have taken several leadership courses and I have read many books and posts, and they all seem to encourage having healthy conflicts in order to grow, innovate and create as an organization. But, unfortunately, I’m finding myself spending a lot of time managing conflict instead of growing, innovating or creating anything new.” 

My client’s frustration level was evident and real.  Especially, after we worked some numbers and I showed him how much conflict was costing his organization. 

Does this situation resonate with you? Is this an issue that you as a leader are experiencing in your organization?

If so, you will benefit from this story…

Although I agree that having healthy conflict (as a principle) is a good thing to experience in an organization and in life in general, I disagree with the use of the term “healthy conflict”. Stay with me while I explain why…

The principle of healthy conflict should lead to healthy discussions, encouraging individuals and teams to grow, evolve and overcome challenges by creating new ideas, processes and at times new products and services.  

However, I believe there is some confusion that naturally is created when we use the term “conflict” as both good and bad or healthy and unhealthy.  Instead, I believe it is wiser if we refer to the term “healthy conflict” as having “healthy opposition”!

Let me define these terms in this manner: 

Conflict – this word has a very negative connotation. It’s a long-lasting struggle. We think of words like war, fighting, battles, striking, strife, winning at all costs, etc.;  and, it often becomes personal.  When things become personal, emotions get in the way.  Hence, the reason that conflict is unproductive and costly to organizations. 

Opposition – this word is a more positive and productive term; having an objective disagreement, disapproval or resistance, which forces people to have meaningful dialogue. It encourages sharing opposite viewpoints. The action of opposing, resisting, and arguing opposing views. When handled and managed properly, opposition seldom leads to personal attacks.

So, what does this mean?

What it does not mean is that opposition will never lead to conflict; in fact, it may when emotions get in the way and it becomes personal.  The reality is, knowing how to create a healthy culture and mindset that is conducive to having healthy opposition is the key.

Healthy Opposition in a workplace leads to developing a New Mindset for everyone and it fosters the following:

  1. Openness To Communicate More Effectively
  2. Trust, Honesty, Respect, and Kindness
  3. Safe & Healthier Working Environment
  4. Freedom To Think And Share New Ideas
  5. Ability To Collaborate As A Team
  6. Creativity And Innovation
  7. Appreciation And Respect For Individual Differences

When successful leaders and organizations create a safe working environment, it encourages individuals and team members to have healthy and constructive dialogue, opposition, and the confidence to challenge different perspectives without any fear.

The result of creating a working environment where teams are inspired and motivated to perform is very clear as productivity and morale improve and profits increase.

You must remove personal bias and perceptions that may lead you to interpret and perceive people’s motives and intent incorrectly, resulting in discussions that become personal.

Understanding the cause of conflict in the workplace starts with becoming more aware of the different individualized Motivation Value Systems (MVS) and Strengths.

Learning, understanding and accepting the motives driving you and others to behave in a certain way  – The “WHY”  (the level of concern for People, Performance, and Process) will help you to get to the heart of your communication issues, personally or professionally.

There is an effective tool that we use to help leaders like you to create a working environment where healthy opposition is encouraged, team collaboration and effectiveness is achieved, and conflict costs are reduced.

So in Conclusion…

Once I showed my client how much conflict was costing his organization, he asked me to come to his business and work with him and his team.

If you are experiencing workplace conflict in your organization, and you want to get an idea of how much it’s actually costing you and your organization, connect with me today.  

Let’s connect by scheduling a free Leadership Trust Call©.

If you’re not quite ready to have a call then join our FREE “Transform Your Leadership Thinking In 5 Days” email course​ to get further insights on the importance of making Relationship Intelligence a key part of your Leadership Development program.


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