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5 Workplace Conflict Myths That Keep You Stuck

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Even with the right framework, the wrong mindset can derail an honest attempt at conflict resolution.

Whenever workplace conflict occurs, it's leaders who are expected to drive conflict resolution conversations and find consensus among parties. Unfortunately, many leaders have been improperly trained to resolve conflict or not trained at all, and as a consequence of failed resolution attempts in the past, they maintain unhealthy beliefs about the conflict resolution process moving forward.

Research tells us that 70% of employees believe that conflict resolution skills are crucially important for leaders to have, though only 22% of non-managers believe that leaders actually handle conflict well.

When conflict isn't being mishandled, it is often avoided. Whether by stonewalling, sidestepping, or shutting down completely, many leaders default to ignoring conflict and as a consequence, spend valuable time managing the fallout of the unaddressed issues.

While conflict can sometimes lead to improved relationships, creative innovations, and greater team engagement, it requires a healthy leader with a healthy outlook to make it work for the good of everyone involved.

"The real challenge with conflict is that it isn’t always easy to know if it is healthy or destructive while you’re in the middle of it."

Conflict, likely due to the strong emotions and anxiety associated with it, regularly defaults to something that seems unhealthy in the minds of those charged with addressing it. And because so many leaders maintain unhealthy beliefs about conflict, those beliefs negatively impact their ability to effectively lead their teams through conflict.

Here are 5 examples of unhealthy conflict resolution beliefs that don't translate well in practice.

#1 Always embrace conflict because it is good for the organization.

Not always. Even when a leader is able to work through conflict with their direct reports to solve complex problems, the process can leave their teams frustrated and exhausted with one another. If they aren’t careful, team members may even begin to resent, reject, or avoid each other in the future.

When resolving problems, leaders must not forget to spend intentional time reconciling relationships that might have been harmed as a result of the conflict.

#2 Sticking to the script is best.

When it comes to resolving conflict, there is no one size fits all approach. This is because conflict stems from a number of different sources. It can be caused by environmental factors, differences in values and beliefs, personality clashes, competition for resources, an imbalance of power, personal history between individuals, poor communication, and more.

'Progress over process' - Some conflicts may require more time and talking while others may require more action and less conversation. Rather than approaching each conflict with a set script and a fixed step-by-step process for resolution, leaders may need to abandon the script in favor of a more responsive, human interaction that is progress driven, not process driven.

#3 All conflict can be resolved... with the right amount of effort.

True conflict resolution cannot be forced. In order for conflict resolution to work, those who are in conflict must be reasonable, rational and open to resolution. Additionally, all parties involved in the resolution process should be willing participants.

Leaders should be careful not to force resolution, as it won't lead to lasting change and may result in deeper challenges in the future. Additionally, despite best efforts, not all conflict will be resolved. In that case, parties involved may need to be separated or released.

#4 Ignoring it will make it go away.

When conflict isn't resolved, it may evolve over time. Unmanaged conflict spreads beyond individuals and takes over teams leading to factions and silos. Left completely to its own devices, conflict can shape the culture of an entire organization and quickly become a crisis.

As daunting as it may seem, leaders are expected and required to have conflict management skills that allow them to effectively respond to conflict in a timely manner. We should all be careful to not allow conflict to persist unchecked.

#5 We should just suck it up and develop tough skin.

Many report that the worst part of navigating conflict with others is having to suppress strong emotions while pretending that the resolution process feels like a good thing to do.

That’s not healthy.

Leaders should create psychological safety and allow those in conflict to get honest about how conflict resolution makes them feel. Many contentious conversations would do well to start with an honest self-disclosure such as, “This sucks, I don’t want to have to do this.” In response, others might say “Me too, just thinking about this is stressing me out. I want it to be over.”

This simple human exchange of shared tension can work wonders for lifting the fog of dread and misery from a difficult conversation. It doesn’t change what needs to be said or done, but it does establish a solid star for an effective conflict resolution process; mutual understanding.


If you are navigating workplace conflict and need help, contact Conflictish today.


Ryan Dunlap is a conflict strategist and the founder of Conflictish, a conflict strategy consultancy that specializes in workplace conflict and sexual misconduct. From tarnished rapport to squeamish conversations, Conflictish is on a mission to help leaders get their 'ish together.


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