The consequences of avoiding conflict

The consequences of avoiding conflict

Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice. She has been certified as a neurotranformational coach since March 2020.

Some time ago, I received a call from a director in my network requesting mediation. Two colleagues were in conflict with each other and the situation had spun out of control, causing emotions to run high. They refused to work together, with one of the colleagues even calling in sick. The whole team was affected by this tension and their work was suffering as a result. Before getting started, I always like to gain a better understanding of the actual problem. And as I suspected, it extended beyond these two people. There were issues throughout the team. When I asked them how long this conflict had been going on, they replied, “nine years”!

Conflict will explode when left unchecked
There are, sadly, no exceptions to this rule. All too often, clients call me when the trust between the parties involved has already fallen to dangerous levels or even been eroded. Which is a shame, because it’s easier to lose trust than to gain it – if the latter is at all possible.

Managers and team leaders find it difficult to deal with tension and heated emotions like anger and sadness. We just don’t like conflict. We prefer to avoid it and push discomfort away. However, differences are to be expected in teams and, therefore, so is conflict. It would be nice if people could discuss their differences openly with each other and get to the heart of the matter. Instead, we take them personally. As a manager, do you allow irritations to persist, do you accept gossip, and do you see poor results due to insufficient cooperation? Chances are this conflict will explode if left unchecked in your team, probably at the worst possible time and at great cost to the relationships. And that’s what happened here after nine years.

Are you willing…
In this case study, I started working with the team and at the same time the two individuals. They weren’t keen on talking to each other again. When asked, “Are you willing to reinvest in a better collaboration?’, the initial response was “no”.I couldn’t force them;it’s their choice. By giving them space and explaining the consequences of saying no, they eventually opted for coaching. This takes courage, as they had little confidence things would turn out well. The role of the manager is crucial here.

Tentative steps towards recovery
In the sessions that followed, they were both given the opportunity to talk about what was causing them so much pain. Venting and acknowledging emotions is an important first step. The details come later. Only when someone gets things off their chest can they be open to listening to others. They said their apologies and expressed their feelings. Unexpectedly, they discovered that they share the same passion for their profession and decided on their own initiative to collaborate on a project. This was a last minute turnaround; things could have easily gone the other way.

What can we take away from this? Dare to have the tough conversations and don’t let conflict fester until it explodes.

Team coaching