As leaders, it’s natural to want to avoid conflict or deal with it only when necessary. We are biologically wired to get along with those in our in-group and have been socialized to be polite and avoid hurting others’ feelings. In the workplace, we’re often rewarded for being a team player and for getting along well with others. In a business environment, averting or avoiding conflict can lead to what is being called in business and human relations literature as “conflict debt” –

What is Conflict Debt?

The sum of all undiscussed and unresolved issues. This debt stands in the way of productivity, employee engagement, and goal achievement.

What are some symptoms of conflict debt?

  • Your team dilutes resources across far too many projects
  • Protective siloes leading to groupthink inhibit cross-pollination and innovation
  • Your plans are full of unspoken assumptions
  • You have a culture of “yes” that leads to employee burnout
  • You and your team are uncomfortable giving or receiving critical feedback
  • When conflict arises in a group setting, you tend to take it “offline”

The ability to get issues on the table and work through them constructively is critical to having a healthy culture. Yet, you and/or your team may lack the skills and the mindset to use conflict productively. To start the necessary shifts and reduce your conflict debt, create the expectation that respectful but open tensions within a team are desirable and healthy. Normalize and model courageous conversations one-to-one and in groups, and welcome giving and receiving feedback around difficult issues. Intentionally create safe spaces for people to share concerns and voice perspectives that are different from yours or the prevailing thinking.

You owe it to your organization to lead your team out of conflict debt. This article offers three evidence-based and tangible actions you and your team can take right away to start the process.,of%20unresolved%20conflict%20over%20time


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