The High Cost of Avoiding Conflict

conflictavoidanceIf you’re anything like me, conflict is probably not your thing. If you’re anything like me, you actually avoid it at all cost – you hate it that much. The truth is though, because it’s a natural, and even an inevitable, part of professional and personal relationships, avoiding conflict often comes at a higher cost than most of us are prepared to pay.

Conflict in the workplace arises from the differences in opinions, ideas, and perceptions that are exchanged each and every day. But, like most challenges, it’s what you do with conflict once it occurs that makes all the difference.

The upside of conflict
In a business environment, you have to find ways to work together. When conflicts arise, determining solutions to resolve issues helps build and strengthen the skills that every great leader needs, like communication and problem solving. And, when handled correctly, it can also strengthen relationships and build trust between you and your team members.

The downside
On the flip side, avoiding conflict can cause resentment, misunderstanding, and distrust – emotions that when left alone, have a tendency to fester. Experts suggest that an environment of distrust strongly influences turnover, productivity and in turn, profitability. And, to top it off, the issues that cause conflicts rarely go away or solve themselves. They usually just get bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

Conflict doesn’t have to start from something big. In fact, most of the time, it starts from something small, even something petty at times. But even the smallest molehill of an issue can become a gigantic mountain that’s hard to get over. Soon, the little issue that could have easily been calmly discussed and resolved becomes a systemic problem that’s ingrained in company culture.

So, the next time you try to avoid a conflict, even for a little while, think about what it could truly cost you and your team. And instead look at it as an opportunity for growth. Find a way to resolve the issue in a way that reinforces respect, value, and security for every individual involved so instead of paying for it, you all learn from it and move forward.

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3 Responses to The High Cost of Avoiding Conflict

  1. Jennifer Anderson November 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    I recently read a great book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni that addresses the positive aspects of conflict in the workplace.

    While it is often uncomfortable to address conflict among co-workers it is good for the forward movement of business to engage in it and have respectful discussion in order develop trust.

    A great example is: What if a team was having staff meeting and a particular project wasn’t moving along and potential business opportunities were going to be missed. During the meeting, no one in the room offered any help or brought up the real obstacles keeping the project from moving forward.

    Most staff members would be reluctant to challenge another staff member because it will create conflict by brining up the real issue standing in the way of success. Or, they might be afraid of embarrassing that person.

    More trust could be built in business if employees were willing to risk more intense discussion in order to hold each other accountable for results.

    I don’t know about you but I would rather hear the truth, good or bad in order to get to a better decision or more trusted relationship

    Great topic and article Brie.

  2. Ann Sabo November 11, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    We deal with people who often have out-of-the-box ideas. They are often conflicting with older, more stable employees. We reolved this by using a performance appraisal and development progrm from HRDT http://www.hrdt.net that requires the staff member to complete an assessment that provides a report for them and their manager. Our managers are taught how to facilitate the reports and work with each individual. This one-on-one manager/employee approach has virtually eliminated conflicts as it has taught each team member to respect the opinions of others and work together for the common good. No, we don’t expect our 55 year old accountant to come to work sporting a tatoo but we know he won’t pre-judge a tatoo’d new-hire on anything other than ability.

  3. Scott Asai November 13, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    Conflict doesn’t go away if you throw it in the closet or under the bed, instead it lingers, festers and gets worse. If you don’t take care of it, it eats at you internally.

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