Great Workplace of the Future

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Great Workplace of the Future

Managing Internal Conflict

by Joseph Bubman




One can be forgiven for believing that the great workplaces of the future will be defined by an acceleration of popular company perks: catered meals, elaborate game rooms, home cleaning services, and subsidized massages. But perks do not a great workplace culture make. And employers will struggle to differentiate their culture as competition to offer the most enticing perks grows fiercer.

The great workplaces of culture will instead be defined by how companies manage the inevitable conflict driven by the following technological, demographic, and social changes:

  • The increasing prevalence of virtual communication, as teams collaborate across the globe and more employees work from remote locations
  • Greater ethnic, gender, and racial diversity, along with more varied  backgrounds and experiences that result in a wider range of perspectives on any given business issue
  • Increased desire among employees to contribute to shaping the direction of their business

That’s right: conflict in the workplace will increase, not decrease. And the great workplaces of the future will be the ones that 1) lead the way in managing internal conflict via consultative, consensus-building approaches to decision-making, and 2) invest in the professional development of their people, equipping them with the core skills to manage conflict effectively on their own.

Great employers recognize how effective internal collaboration translates into business success. They know that unresolved conflict, revisited decisions, and employee frustration undermine productivity and diminish business results.  The differences between a typical workplace culture and a great one will become even more apparent in the future.

Typical Workplace Culture

Great Workplace Culture

  • Conflict perceived as a threat to co-worker relationships and employee satisfaction
  • Mindset that employees must choose between getting what they want and maintaining good relationships with colleagues
  • Individual tendency to stake out positions and debate who is right and who is wrong
  • Insufficient employee familiarity with and skill in using an interest-based approach to resolve issues
  • Issues escalated at the first sign of conflict
  • Frequent unilateral escalation up one’s management chain
  • Binary decision-making process: either you’re a decision-maker or you’re not involved
  • Inclination to assign blame and point fingers when something goes wrong
  • Conflict treated as an opportunity to develop creative solutions to problems
  • Employees equipped with a systematic framework for negotiating good substantive outcomes and improved relationships
  • Standard practice of exploring underlying motivations, brainstorming solutions, and using objective criteria to make decisions
  • Conflict resolved at lowest level possible; escalation used as a last resort
  • Joint escalation that requires both parties to explain their views and what they’ve tried
  • Consultative decision-making that enables people to play one of many roles in helping make a decision
  • Focus on joint contribution to understand what parties can do differently in future to work together more effectively



Joseph Bubman is a senior trainer on negotiation and conflict management at Vantage Partners, LLC. He is also founder and CEO of the employer review site Company Connector.