Fear of Conflict – Why Conflict is Necessary

The department meeting is over and a decision was made. Deep down, you’re walking away thinking why even have meetings in the first place. All meetings consist of is the boss giving direction on where she wants to go next. The plan the team is agreeing to go forward with is ridiculous, why doesn’t anyone else see it?

You think back to the boardroom where you were quiet for most of the meeting, only agreeing to the statements your superiors made and saying “Yes!” to the motivational questions put forth. You remember looking around the room at your colleagues all with the same nervousness of the future they were signing themselves up for. Why didn’t anyone stop it? Why didn’t you stop it?

Looking down the hall you see your boss smiling and mentioning to their superior how the meeting wasn’t so bad and everyone agreed with the plan put forth. She looks relieved and is happy there was no tension about her plan. If only she knew, you think to yourself, of what the team really thinks about it…

This situation happens across all organizations every day. You may have run into a situation like this in your career many times but have never thought once about it. Fear of conflict does not have to be just with a superior, it can be with anyone you work alongside with in an organization. What is necessary is realizing when it happens and turning that fear into positive momentum.

Fear of conflict can lead to the under-performance of any organizational team. This fear can come from many situations: lack of trust with a co-worker, company culture to suppress ideas, respect for one’s personal feelings and personal fear of being confrontational are common pitfalls that hold people back from conflicting with one another. The need for organizational conflict at times is necessary for an idea to get a “dry run” on how effective it can be, and without conflict on an idea, true work and thought has not been put into it.

Organizations do not come up with plans; people come up with plans. In planning, it is necessary to have all the facts in order and for all views to be accounted for. What you believe is the best course of action for a plan, others may have the completely opposite point of view. What productive conflict does is purposely breach holes into a plan or an idea, find the holes and gaps and bring forth an even stronger idea once the gaps are filled. The result of a stronger, discussed plan is increased effectiveness, and overall satisfaction of those involved because their input was considered into it.

Never let fear of conflict hold you or your team back. Healthy conflict is what makes the best organizational teams move forward as everyone has something different to bring to the table. The difference is holding yourself accountable to conflicting when necessary and creating that environment where you can share and receive productive and respectful feedback so the team and the organization benefits.

Jorrian Gelink

Management Architect

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3 Responses to “Fear of Conflict – Why Conflict is Necessary”

  1. I agree with everything you say. In fact I feel that the concept of conflict is not accounted for in today’s corporate ethos. In large companies meetings become monotonous, one-way channels for disseminating information. In my workplace, managers are often busy sifting email when attending meetings. The lone voice or two that speaks up is frowned upon and they are asked to take the discussion ‘offline’ and an action item is created. All conflicts are taken out of center-stage so that everyone can get out of the meeting and into the next as smoothly as possible. It is quite sad in the end ..

  2. I’ve done both. Played the jackass that tries to dictate answers in a meeting he runs (never intentionally, just over thinking/over planning). I’ve also come out of meetings as a participant where no one voiced their opinions, even though they had differing thoughts on the matter.

    How is it that you create conflict with an open tone that encourages others to speak up… whether the meeting owner or participant?


  1. Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2012 – Peter Drucker’s Management Philosophy « Lessons in Lean - December 24, 2012

    [...] Fear of Conflict – Why Conflict is Necessary  An excellent summary of the benefits of healthy conflict in any organization.  The post reminds me of The Abliene Paradox by Jerry B. Harvey; a story where family members agree to drive 53 miles to Abilene for lunch, even though nobody really wants to do it.  To avoid conflict, however, they all go along, have a terrible time, and blame each other upon returning home.  Unfortunately, too many organizations suffer from the Abilene Paradox because of the absence of open, healthy conflict. [...]

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