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The Cost of Silence: When Conflict is Ignored

Unresolved disputes in the workplace often leave behind a palpable tension, dampening team morale and hindering productivity.

This article explores how unaddressed team conflicts often lead to decreased morale, productivity loss, and high turnover rates. By examining basic principles of conflict resolution and recognizing the detrimental effects of toxic behavior in the workplace, leaders and business owners have the means and mindset to proactively work towards a harmonious work environment and enhance employee engagement.

Understanding What Happens When Conflicts Are Not Addressed

Conflicts often arise from unclear communication, misaligned goals, or personality differences in interpreting things. Recognizing these early signs is crucial for redirecting unproductive to productive workplace behaviors and maintaining a healthy workplace environment where employees WANT to stay working.

Imagine a team where two members must understand the intent and messaging expressed in each other’s emails to work together…but they don’t. This lack of connection and a strategy to clarify misunderstandings and misinterpretations early on will surely lead to frustration, irritation, delayed projects, and declines in productivity. Without a communication strategy to address differing perceptions, it is easy to fill the void of missing information and assume malintent or incompetence in the other person. The walls go up and the working relationship quickly becomes strained.

This newsletter identifies 8 areas of negative impact when conflicts go unaddressed and YOU can do something about it!

#1 The High Cost of Low Morale

#2 Turnover Troubles

#3 Communication Breakdown

#4 The Cycle of Team Dysfunction

#5 Leadership and Conflict Management

#6 Enhancing Psychological Safety

#7 Mediation Techniques

#8 Preventing Future Conflicts

So, let’s get started!

#1 The High Cost of Low Morale

Do you know if your team feels overlooked or unheard? What are the behavioral signs of engagement demonstrated by your team? Do you know what the signs of an engaged workplace team look like? If not, you have some work to do to be a leader.

But back to conflict. When conflicts go unresolved, team members tend to feel a lack of trust in their leaders and their ability to take action to resolve issues quickly, fairly, and equitably. Their perspectives about what is going on seem unappreciated and how they are impacted doesn’t matter.

Their dedication to the organization starts to erode, and they search for something better. This lack of engagement leads to harmful behaviors that impact the entire team, even those not directly involved in the initial conflict but who are part of the workplace climate.

A team where members feel their ideas are consistently ignored starts to withdraw from discussions, just do the basics of showing up and doing their work, and their productivity declines. Other team members notice this change, the ‘ripple effect’ emerges, and everyone’s performance is affected by the tense atmosphere that starts to flourish.

Actionable Tip: Pay attention, get a pulse on the team’s emotional climate, and assess your options to start doing things differently. DON’T IGNORE what you see, hear, and feel is going on. Address such situations promptly. Start with some 1:1 conversations with your team; come together by scheduling a joint meeting to discuss the issues identified openly.

Create a psychologically safe environment so team members feel confident expressing their thoughts and feelings, without retribution or retaliation. Acknowledge all contributions and ensure every team member understands their value to the organization. Formulate a strategy and communicate your plans so your team can clearly see actionable steps and a timeline for resolving the current challenges. This approach goes a long way in rebuilding trust and boost morale.

#2 Turnover Troubles

High turnover rates indicate deeper organizational problems. A climate of unresolved conflict is often at the root of why people leave good organizations. They see their leader(s) as ineffective in resolving problems that matter. Employees often report leaving due to the stress and frustration arising from unresolved differences, communication breakdowns, damaged relationships, a loss of feeling part of the organization, and a lack of personal safety – all hallmarks of a hostile work environment.

The word gets out—good people leave good organizations due to mismanaged conflict and ineffective leadership, which begins to adversely affect the organization’s reputation. High turnover certainly results in higher recruitment expenses and loss of valuable knowledge, not to mention increased challenges in attracting future candidates.

A team constantly facing communication breakdowns and power struggles often leads to resentment among members and affects productivity. Not only must you as the leader encourage open dialogue among team members, outside resources are likely to be needed to provide conflict resolution training and team-building activities to repair and restore trust and workplace relationships. Your attitude and leadership when it comes to managing differences and conflicts go a long way in cultivating a positive work culture that reduces turnover and improves employee retention.

Actionable Tip: Be a proactive leader by conducting regular contact points with your employees to uncover their issues and concerns. Be consistent and predictable in maintaining a “check-in” approach. Once issues and concerns are identified, address them promptly and keep employees informed when intervention efforts take longer than expected.. Establish and encourage feedback channels to ensure everyone feels heard and valued.

#3 Communication Breakdown

Effective communication is crucial for any successful team. Communication obstacles can arise when disputes aren’t resolved, causing misunderstandings and inefficiencies. Overcoming these barriers requires open, honest dialogue to restore team functionality.

When two members have conflicting views on a project approach, they resist discussing their differences – often out of fear of what will happen. This leads to tension and confusion among other team members when the dissension persists.

Outline your expectations as their leader that your employees are expected to work through their differences in order to work together effectively. Not getting along is in direct conflict with the essential functions of their job and the expectations for their employment within your organization. It’s not just about encouraging both parties to express their perspectives openly and actively but to also model, coach, train, and support them in navigating through their differences and listening to each other without judgment, criticism, or ‘blame and shame.’

This approach clearly fosters support, an understanding that both of their perspectives matter, and your role as a conflict coach supports them in finding a resolution that aligns with the team’s goals.

Actionable Tip: Establish clear expectations for employees to resolve differences. Develop communication protocols and strategies for resolving differences within the team. This includes defining how conflicts should be addressed and resolved through one-on-one discussions or facilitated group meetings. Start setting these guidelines up front so team members know what to expect and can approach conflicts structured and constructively, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and promoting effective resolution.

#4 The Cycle of Team Dysfunction

When conflicts linger without resolution, they often lead to a pattern of dysfunction within teams that becomes challenging to overcome. As trust diminishes, collaboration weakens, fueling additional conflicts and worsening cooperation. Identifying and tackling these patterns promptly is vital to preserve a positive team environment.

If team members clash over differing approaches to a critical task and instead of addressing their differences, they avoid confrontation, resentment will simmer. This lack of resolution affects the entire team, causing communication breakdowns and reduced productivity.

Actionable Tip: Promote active listening among team members. Encourage everyone to truly hear and understand each other’s perspectives without interrupting or judging.

#5 Leadership and Conflict Management

Leaders play a crucial role in conflict management. A lack of skills in effective conflict management is the demise of any leader who aspires to be influential, credible, and effective in their stewardship of their workforce.

Conflict management is a series of skills and abilities just like any other leadership skill – it’s learnable. With effective conflict management strategies comes the development of other critical ‘people’ skills through the use of empathy, compassion, care and concern along with connectedness and assertiveness. This body of skills ensures that everyone feels heard, acknowledged, and respected. This multi-faceted approach to conflict management not only resolves the current issue – it establishes a framework and organizational strategy for addressing future conflicts.

Have you ever experienced colleagues or team members with conflicting ideas about their perceptions and direction of a project? Rather than ignoring the disagreement, as a leader – STEP-IN promptly, effectively, and assertively facilitate a constructive dialogue. Create a psychologically safe space where everyone has the opportunity to express their perspective, the impact of what’s going on, and their ideas/concerns/insights about how to move forward . Then, facilitate a brainstorming session, mitigating interruptions, to uncover creative ideas and generating solutions that share common ground for development of a mutually agreeable plan to move forward.

Actionable tip: Practice active listening and refrain from jumping to conclusions. Leaders who actively seek to understand viewpoints create a sense of inclusivity and trust within their teams.

#6 Enhancing Psychological Safety

Creating an environment where people feel safe to express themselves without fear of negative consequences is vital for promoting open communication and resolving conflicts effectively.

When leading a team meeting, and you notice team members hesitant to share their ideas or concerns, you can enhance psychological safety by actively encouraging everyone to contribute, listening attentively to their input, managing interruptions, redirecting judgmental statements, and responding in a supportive and nonjudgmental manner.

Actionable tip: Establishing explicit communication norms and demonstrating vulnerability as a leader can help create trust and openness within the team. Remember, building psychological safety is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and commitment from everyone involved. It’s a process, not an event, and easily becomes part of the team and/or organizational culture when fostered and facilitated by leadership mindfulness for the health and well-being of all concerned.

#7 Mediation Techniques

Mediation is a practical approach for resolving conflicts early on, preventing them from getting out of hand. Teaching leaders and team members conflict resolutions skills to effectively engage in mediation (a 3rd party facilitated approach) equips them to handle disputes constructively.

If team members disagree on how to approach a project, instead of arguing, they benefit from a mediator’s facilitation to find common ground and move forward smoothly.

Actionable tip: Prepare employees for the process of mediation, what’s expected, and how a 3rd party, neutral to the organization and/or the team and its members, helps both of them feel heard, that their perspectives matter, and that the organization is willing to make an investment in them to build their skills in how to resolve differences.

#8 Preventing Future Conflicts

Managing conflicts from escalating is just as important as resolving existing ones. This can be achieved through ongoing training, regular feedback sessions, and creating channels for open communication.

Encourage team members to share ideas openly during meetings rather than keep their thoughts to themselves. Remember, conflict is not ‘bad’ – conflict can create positive change. What makes conflict difficult is when it’s poorly managed.

Actionable tip: establish clear expectations and boundaries within teams or relationships. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and acceptable behavior to minimize misunderstandings and prevent conflicts from arising. Regularly revisit and communicate these expectations to ensure everyone is on the same page and to address any emerging issues proactively. Clarity and consistency in expectations help build trust and reduce the likelihood of conflicts due to ambiguity or mismatched assumptions.

Unaddressed team conflicts negatively impact workplace dynamics, productivity, and employee retention.

Leaders, who create a culture of open communication and collaboration while demonstrating an understanding of the root causes and levels of intensity of conflicts, are truly leaders who command respect and reflect those able to successfully implement effective resolution strategies as measures reflective of a ‘good place to work.’

Encouraging dialogue, addressing morale issues promptly, and providing conflict resolution training are proactive steps toward mitigating conflict and promoting a harmonious work environment while increasing employee retention.

The bottom line…prioritize conflict resolution and enhance psychological safety to build stronger, more resilient teams poised for success in the face of challenges. Doing so enhances the reputation of you as the leader, the organization in being a good place to work, and the health and well-being of the employees who ultimately drive the success of the organization in terms of productivity and profitability.


Debra Dupree

Dr. D is a dynamic and engaged speaker, never failing to excite her audience. She has nearly 30 years of professional experience as an accomplished corporate consultant and keynote speaker.  Companies such as Teradata, Yamaha, Stanford University, Cal Western School of Law, and the Department of Navy have called upon… MORE >

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