Fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems within an organization.

Productive ideological conflict = willingness to disagree, even passionately but only when there is TRUST. When trust is truly established – conflict becomes nothing but a pursuit of truth and is an attempt to find the best possible answer. Conflict without TRUST = politics.  It is an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth.  Even if someone appears to be persuasive and alluding to the answer they are looking for, this is manipulative and can cause mistrust with others. Example:  A team member makes comments in front of others with their own point of view to get people on their side, when all they are doing is manipulating others to their thinking.


There is always a discomfort associated with disagreements.  Overcoming tendency to run from discomfort is one of the most important requirements for teams to be successful. “No Pain, No Gain.”  When we avoid unnecessary pain, we not only fail to experience the gain, but we avoid necessary pain and end up making the pain worse in the long run. I know I have done this many times and it has always backfired for me personally.

Conflict Avoidance:

This creates problems larger than a small group of people and transfers throughout the organization the employee is supposed to be serving. They leave it to others to resolve issues that must be addressed at their level. This contributes to employee angst and job misery at work and in personal life. There is more than one way to engage in healthy conflict.  What is not okay is for team members to avoid disagreements.  This is a recipe for bad decision making and interpersonal resentment. When people fail to be honest with one another about an issue they disagree on, this disagreement festers and ferments over time until it transforms into frustration around that person.

Conflict Intolerance:

Not allowing respectful conflict and avoiding it at all costs because it is easier to have boring, ineffective meetings and causes poorly vetted decisions. This results in an unhealthy organization. CHOICE:  You need to explain the disagreement and work through it or withhold opinion and allow yourself to quietly lose respect and frustrations will set in. Deciding to tolerate vs. truly trust a person – you start to see concealing rolled eyes, sighs of exasperation when that person speaks.  This treatment received to that person starts to feel hurtful and disrespectful and behavior erodes cohesiveness.  Team members need to be open and vulnerable to explain their conflict tendencies and find common ground. Example: Usually the aggressor is the one who conceals the rolled eyes and shows signs of exasperation without even realizing or knowing it but the other person feels hurt.

Conflict Continuum:

On one end:  No conflict at all = artificial harmony.  This is where false smiling and disingenuous agreements arise around almost everything, publicly at least. On other end: Relentless, nasty and destructive conflict with people and are constantly at battle. Both ends are unhealthy. GOAL: move away from extreme of artificial harmony and encounter more and more constructive conflict. Conflict Continuum /_________Constructive_______________/_________Destructive________________/ Artificial                                              Ideal                                                 Mean Spirited Harmony                                     Conflict  Point                                    Personal Attacks   

Most organizations are on the extreme left side. There will always be someone who oversteps and says or does something not constructive and they must learn to manage this behavior. However on the other hand, if someone is giving constructive criticism to help a team member grow, the team member may not take it that way due to pride or overconfidence and this could also cause issues within the organization.

Two Rules of Engagement of Conflict:

  1. If people are silent during a discussion in a meeting, then this will be interpreted as a disagreement.
  2. At the end of a discussion during a meeting, each member is to be asked for their formal commitment to the decision.


Trust enables conflict.  Conflict allows a team to move to the next stage of achieving commitment.

About the Author(s)

DJ Heckes

DJ is CEO of EXHIB-IT! Tradeshow Marketing Experts and Full BRAIN Marketing and focuses on educating and training companies to significantly improve their small business marketing strategies.  She also presents customized training programs for business marketing, social media, leadership and trade show marketing.

CEO & Author, EXHIB-IT!