Have you ever heard executives proudly describe their groups or organizations: “We’re just a big happy family around here—we get along, no problems.” I am always suspicious of such leaders, as I am suspicious of husbands and wives who say, “We’ve been married for twenty years and we’ve never had a fight.” Usually that means that their conflicts are not allowed to surface and be faced.
Some people actually fear conflict. They feel anxious and uncomfortable with conflicts, so they take the attitude of “peace at any price.” Therefore, they avoid getting involved in anything that smacks of conflict. But they pay a price for this posture, because the results of avoiding conflict are quite predictable:
- Resentments Build Up. This is true in all relationships, not just leader-member relationships. When conflicts remain unresolved, resentments gradually build up. Then, maybe months later, when a minor problem crops up, all the accumulated resentment erupts explosively, usually far out of proportion to the particular problem of the moment.
- Feelings Get Displaced onto Other People or Things. The leader who does not resolve conflicts at the office may go home and displace her resentments onto her family—complaining to her husband, yelling at the kids or shouting at the dog.
- Griping, Backbiting, Gossiping, General Discontent. One of the surest signs of unresolved conflicts in organizations is an atmosphere of excessive griping, behind-the-back criticism or incessant gossiping.
The point is that you cannot afford to run away from conflicts, because resentment will build up, feelings will get displaced, or there will be symptoms of the discontent and hostility people experience when conflicts exist among the people with whom they work. Conflicts should be brought out in the open and resolved, not shoved under the rug or suppressed.