When it Comes to Conflict at Work — Consider the Danger of Avoiding It

Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

Conflict Debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward, but instead remain undisclosed and unresolved.” – Liane Davey

Over the past years, I’ve been on a quiet mission exploring the elements that contribute to stability within our work lives. I refer to core stability as a confluence of elements, such as psychological safety and the psychological contract, that contribute to a strong work life foundation. Their presence help us to become (and remain) engaged and productive — even in the face of challenge. To some, stability may seem an odd path, in an age of relentless innovation and digital transformation. However, for those of us who are troubled by enduring workplace problems, such as poor fit and lack of engagement, stability offers fertile ground.

When you consider the topics that affect stability, conflict — and more specifically the absence of healthy conflict — land on the short list. When we think of conflict in our own work lives, we might recall the odd argument or heated discussion concerning a project or client. However, those memories are only part of the conflict story. We also must consider all of the moments where we failed to confront an issue. Instances where we hesitated because of the imagined aftermath. Those “forward flashes” can resemble a work life apocalypse.

In her new book, The Good Fight, Liane Davey lets us know that avoiding conflict comes with a clear cost — something she brilliantly named “Conflict Debt”. Conflict debt is the accumulation of emotions and resentment that can occur when we fail to broach the topic. Davey takes our hand and leads us through the emotions that come with that dynamic. The Good Fight explores the idea that when mastered, conflict builds both courage and confidence. She also explores the roots of why we feel the way we do. (Her personal conflict story is like so many of our own— laden with judgement, avoidance and outright fear.)

There is a certain hell that we quickly correlate with work-related conflict. In fact, that is enough to relegate conflict into near oblivion. We should be doing the polar opposite — dancing with it. “Normalizing healthy conflict” is the goal, Davey explains.

Ultimately, we sacrifice ourselves when we avoid conflict. We also negatively affect the strength and quality of our work.

Unresolved conflict doesn’t fully dissipate.

Sadly, it can take on a festering life of its own.

Purchase The Good Fight here:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

2 thoughts on “When it Comes to Conflict at Work — Consider the Danger of Avoiding It

  1. At last the beginnings of a rational commentary about conflict at the workplace – let the discussion begin. The goal- finding the balance between speaking up and speaking out, and ethical decision making. Someone always ultimately has to be in charge – but how to have the robust debate often needed is worthy of debate


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