Is it conflict or healthy debate?

The very nature of dynamic, diverse teams means that groups of people who have different opinions, life experiences, passions and ways of expressing themselves, are gathering with one another to work together. It’s natural that disagreements and conflict will crop up frequently. The way that managers approach conflict with their team can make or break their leadership. 

Most of us are uncomfortable with conflict; we prefer to keep the peace, particularly at work where it can become awkward to continue working together if we don’t see eye to eye. 

On social media, it has become even easier to avoid the people we don’t agree with, simply by blocking and removing as friends, we decide who we want to align ourselves with and do our best to make sure we never have to confront an alternate viewpoint. 

While there are some conflicts that can be unproductive and full of negativity, many daily disagreements are healthy for teams to have and for leaders to encourage. 

Disagreements allow teams to: 

  • Think differently to reach more creative solutions 
  • Broaden personal views as they listen to others’ ideas and experiences 
  • Change their mind when presented with new perspectives 
  • Engage in respectful discussions to strengthen relationships 

What makes a healthy disagreement in teams? 

The challenge, for leaders, is to know what makes a debate healthy, rather than devolving into unproductive conflict. In his book ‘Good Arguments’ (2022), Bo Seo outlines the four indicators that a disagreement is worth having: 

Is it real? Is there an actual difference in opinion between parties? Sometimes, we misinterpret others actions or words and look for conflict rather than disagreement. Ask yourself is this really a disagreement or is it a conflict with no possible resolution? 

Is it important? The difference in opinion doesn’t just need to exist, it also needs to be important enough to justify a disagreement. Small disagreements can escalate into unresolvable conflict when pride or defensiveness gets involved. 

Is it specific? The subject of disagreement needs to be specific enough that parties involved can make progress towards a resolution. Ask yourself, what is this argument really about? 

Are we aligned? Disagreements can go on forever, causing damage to relationships and team dynamics if the parties aren’t aligned in the end goal. One person in the disagreement might be arguing to change the other’s mind, while the other may be arguing for the sake of hurting feelings. We all disagree for many reasons but if our end goals aren’t aligned, the disagreements will never be productive or resolved. 

“The opposite of bad disagreement … is not agreement, but good disagreement,” Bo says in an interview with ABC.

Managers, don’t be scared of conflict.

In teams, every member needs to be able to feel safe to voice their opinions, be heard and trust that the group they are a part of won’t shoot down their ideas. If disagreements are shied away from or shut down before they begin, no team member will feel safe to contribute. 

Managers who shut down disagreements run the risk of limiting their team’s growth. Those who are open to different perspectives being shared are actively fostering imaginative solutions, healthy conversations and respectful relationships that fuel growth and success. 

Want to know how your team can disagree well? People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.