Fear of Conflict

fear_9590334I recently had a great conversation with one of my teams about something that was holding one individual back: Fear of conflict

Fear of conflict has the potential to keep team members from expressing their questions, solutions, analyses, and investigations. Fear can result in paralysis and catastrophizing (making things seem worse than they are). When afraid, an individual can be focused on avoiding conflict and/or mistakes rather than on delivering exceptional value.

Conflict itself is not a bad thing. Neither are mistakes. Both are an advantage to high performing teams. In fact, show me a team without conflict or failure, and I’ll show you an underperforming team.

However, the fear of conflict or the fear of making mistakes is always a sign of problems.

Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter. Bertrand Russell Click To Tweet

Where Does Fear of Conflict Come From?

Some common sources are:

  • Fear of separation
  • Fear of loss of identity/individualism
  • Fear around intellectual mastery – i.e., being “wrong”
  • Fear of embarrassment/humiliation/ridicule
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of loss of respect
  • Fear of loss of job

All of these are very real. And can be very scary.

There is also a simple (but not always easy), team exercise to kick start the process of overcoming these fears as a group.

Show me a team without conflict or failure, and I’ll show you an underperforming team. Click To Tweet

What Do Your Teams Fear?

Here’s a thought: Ask them.

  1. Get some sticky notes and pens, ask each person to write what their fears are (in the context of their team) one per sticky note, as many as they want.
  2. Have each person put their notes on the wall/whiteboard (if working with multiple teams, one section per team)
  3. Ask the team to silently group the individual notes by theme
  4. Have individuals dot vote on their biggest fears. (Take the number of themes and divide by 3, round up, each individual gets that many votes to cast as they like)
  5. Then have the team brainstorm solutions to over coming those fears
Sometimes all it takes to create a safe environment for team members to be vulnerable and bust thru their fear of conflict is for a single individual to step up and do something that feels unsafe and uncomfortable first.
Maslow wrote,
“In any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”
 Which will you choose?

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