Leadership Transformation Blog  

007 How Workplace Friction Can Lead to Breakthrough Opportunities

by | May 14, 2024 | Case Studies, Leadership Strategy, Leadership Tips

In a recent interview, cybersecurity expert SVP and CSO Kristina Belnap recalled her experience of learning to embrace workplace friction as the catalyst for her personal growth and the development of her team. By showcasing the relationship between beliefs and decision-making Kristina illuminates the power of giving and receiving feedback in the workplace. Her personal leadership philosophy has enabled her to traverse difficult organizational changes and culture shifts, establishing her credibility and presence at an executive level. 

Like Kristina, you can develop your leadership presence, characterized by gravitas and trust, by first recalibrating how you feel about friction and its role in the workplace. By considering friction’s role in catalyzing relationship breakthroughs and positive business outcomes, you can ignite your ability to grow professionally. And, by extension, you can build your capacity to foster your team’s growth.

The Role of Workplace Friction in Progress

Friction in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Just like building muscle requires resistance, friction in the workplace provides you with opportunities to strengthen your resourcefulness and resilience. Friction allows you to clarify your own thinking and to hone your communication. It provides you with opportunities to appreciate the perspectives and commitments of others, and to navigate toward win-win outcomes. More important than the friction itself is your perception of it—for that is what will shape your response. 

For example, Kristina recalls an experience earlier in her executive tenure when she was placed in a close working relationship with another leader who had an off-putting presence and style of leadership. Her initial thoughts were that her colleague’s actions were so distasteful that she was justified in looking for another position. However, as she met with our executive leadership coaches, she realized that leaving her current role would eliminate vital opportunities for her professional growth. With the benefit of incisive coaching, Kristina shifted her mindset, and welcomed the challenge of learning to be effective even in a context that included working with a difficult, disruptive peer. 

Because her perception of what she could gain and what she could contribute changed, she first learned how to weather difficult encounters, and then she began to trust herself to thrive even when others were uncooperative and unnecessarily resistant. She gained both diplomacy skills and confidence.

Rather than perceiving a person or challenge as a roadblock to personal engagement at work, shifting your mindset can help you see these frustrating setbacks as stepping stones. As a leader, real ground is won when you learn how to overcome concerns, threats, and obstacles.

The Difference Between Positive Friction and Negative Friction

Positive friction helps to propel a team forward in their progress. It engenders a culture of innovation, resilience, and interdependence. Negative friction is characterized by dominance, control, and a lack of autonomy within the workplace culture. Whereas both forms of friction can feel unpleasant or uncomfortable, the developing leader can learn and grow in either circumstance. The key is to maintain your connection with your personal purpose and intentions—to recognize your power to make choices that produce learning and growth, and then to move on when your learning is sufficient for your purpose.

Accepting and Giving Feedback at Work

Your professional growth and that of your team can be greatly enhanced by focusing on continuous improvement more than contentment and harmony. By accepting feedback as a necessary part of development, you will have an easier time recognizing the need to change, doing the difficult work of adjusting your approach, and guiding team members toward a similar approach to challenges. You can help your team members take roles and responsibilities that are suited to their strengths and interests, and at the same time, you can provide opportunities for them to lean into situations that are unfamiliar, beset with problems, and different from their current skillset.

Making Difficult Decisions to Enable the Growth of Your Team and Organization

Part of leadership involves having straightforward conversations with team members about their personal and professional growth. At times, you’ll need to let someone go. Kristina and our principal consultants discuss the decision-making process for making major organizational shifts in culture and work style in a measured and considerate manner.

Embracing the Foundational Elements of Progress in the Workplace

Being a leader will often require you to step into uncomfortable experiences, ready to learn and adapt to challenging circumstances. By recognizing the positive role of friction in the workplace you’ll be able to engage in these difficult moments, and you will develop the capacity to transcend even seemingly insurmountable obstacles.


  • [03:00:00] If you back away from tense environments of workplace friction, what could you lose?

  • [05:10:38] Remaining true to who you are while implementing corrective feedback

  • [07:31:12] Recognizing the intentions behind feedback you receive

  • [10:15:00] Being “thick-skinned” but not ruthless

  • [12:59:00] The positive role of friction in developing innovative and resilient teams

  • [19:15:98] Are you giving your team members the tools they need to succeed?

  • [21:36:37] Kristina’s experience of making difficult decisions to elevate workplace culture

  • [28:37:20] When does it make sense to let someone go? And, how can you lay the groundwork for the change to be a positive experience for them?

  • [35:30:83] Determining whether you should stay or go

Join us as we dive into these topics and more in our latest podcast episode, which you can view or listen to now:

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  • Attract professional opportunities by crystallizing your experience and quantifying your impact on your resume and LinkedIn profile. Work with our expert career coach by signing up for the Resume and Career Positioning Package at https://peridotcircleconsulting.com/book-your-consult/

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