Conquer Conflict At Work/Conflict Mis-Styles #1: Ignore the Problem

Friday, March 10, 2023

Conflict Mis-Styles #1: Ignore the Problem

This is the first article of a 7 part series exploring 7 common Mis-Styles of Conflict Resolution to help you become a Better Leader through elevating your Communication.

Ignore the Problem

This is the first article of a 7 part series exploring 7 common Mis-Styles of Conflict Resolution to help you become a Better Leader through elevating your Communication. Subscribe and Comment


Resolving conflict is one of those skills we don't really think about until we are faced with a problem we can't solve, or we are sitting in a Conflict Management course frantic to solve our most current problems.

Sometimes conflict feels so uncomfortable that we want to ignore it all together and hope it will go away on its own. But you have likely realized how ignoring the problem creates deeper divides and erodes any trust you have built as a leader.

Ignoring a problem is an illusion of resolution. It may appear to ease the tension in the short term; however, pretending an issue does not exist creates more tension and decreases relational satisfaction in the long run.

In one of my workplaces, I had what I thought was an amazing leader. She was a fantastic listener and anytime I took concerns to her or we had a difference of opinion, I felt heard, seen, and valued. I would leave her office thinking real change was coming.

And then ... nothing ever happened.

I stopped sharing my concerns with her, the biggest of which was my disregard for her leadership "style". In a fun self realization moment - as I write this article, I am now realizing I was also ignoring a problem I had with her (oh the irony!)

Why People Try to Ignore the Problem

When people chose to ignore issues, small or big, they are trying to escape the mounting personal hurt, worry, and rejection that builds up internally.

The result?

The result?

* A seemingly calm and easy going person suddenly explodes one day

* Productivity drops as people "work to rule", only giving what is required of them

* Gossip creeps into influence how other's see you

* Good People leave

A small issue that could have been resolved in a calm and respectful manner has now suddenly become a hurtful exchange of "I told you so" and "you never" statements that cause more stress and strain. In addition to the explosive resentments, the two parties now find themselves in a bigger conflict with escalating tensions.

There are many reasons why one might choose to ignore a problem:

* It is uncomfortable to admit our mistakes (I can't have flaws, I am the leader)

* To avoid perceived unpleasant consequences (there goes my bonus or promotion)

* Afraid to take responsibility (what will this mean about me as a leader? Am I a failure?)

* Loss of influence and image (imposter syndrome anyone?)

* Worry about decreased relational / leadership satisfaction Potential loss of a relationship or status (hello leaders!)

What are the signs of someone who is Ignoring the Problem?

Aside from the seemingly unprovoked explosive moment they may have, there are early warning signs that someone may not feel comfortable or confident to share their feelings when conflict arises.

* Says "yes" to all requests such as joining a committee, creating a new policy, attend a meeting outside of work hours

*Always agrees with what others think and avoids expanding on their own opinions

* Goes with the flow and happy to allow others to make the decisions and determine the direction

* Prefers to be a silent partner in teams

* Complain about things to friends, instead of speaking calmly to someone who can actually do something about it

* Alters their own routine to avoid others (i.e. moves desk, takes stairs, requests change to assignment)

The Risks of Ignoring Problems

Positive Impact Leaders know the importance of data for effective decision making. Failing to understand your role in leading change through challenges will negatively impact your level of influence. Ignoring the 'soft' information around organizational culture, office politics, challenges and struggles of the team impedes effective decision making.

As I shared my experience above with a leader who opted to ignore problems, leaders experience a loss of influence and credibility. Leaders are lured into a false sense that there are no problems, teams are working well together when the reality is no one trusts you to share issues.

On a personal level, people who choose to ignore problems experience a decrease in relational satisfaction and safety.

If your employees are not coming to you to talk about their challenges, you have to ask if you are part of the problem.

(side note: as I reflect on my new awareness through writing this article, and my decision to ignore the problem I had with my leader, I can see how I used this experience to fuel my beliefs around insignificance - which became foundational content when real issues of bullying and harassment came forward and I felt I had no support)

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