I’m super excited. I’ve finally found the big idea for the speech and book I’m working on. I’ve told you before that it’s about conflict—that’s been clear for a long time. But how do I convince people that conflict isn’t evil and it’s not going to make you a bad person, destroy your relationships, or get you fired? I finally figured out the problem…you’re in conflict debt.

What do I mean by “conflict debt?” Essentially, each time you avoid a discussion, debate, or disagreement that you should be having, you rack up conflict debt. If you should be introducing novel ideas to get your organization out of a rut but you think, “that’s gonna’ ruffle some feathers,” so you stay quiet, you’re incurring debt. If you should be telling a coworker that he’s not pulling his weight, but you just can’t be bothered starting a fight, that’s conflict debt.

The problem with conflict debt is that you pay interest on that debt. It’s the interest that’s slowing down your organization and killing you.

At the organization-level, I see companies fail to make the tough choices about what really matters. They have 7 priorities made of 27 sub-projects. They never say no to anything. That’s a big debt and it has a heavy interest payment in the form of overwork and diluted resources.

At the team-level, conflict debt can stem from someone who’s not doing their job properly, whether that’s due to a lack of skill or an attitude problem. When teams fail to confront the issue, they go into debt. The interest is paid by everyone else on the team who has to contort themselves into inefficient workarounds.

At the individual-level, you can probably list off a string of issues you’ve avoided and instead just “charged” to your conflict account. Maybe it’s a boss who isn’t giving you the credit you think you deserve. Perhaps it’s a teammate whom you suspect has been gossiping about you. No matter the issue, the longer you let it go without resolution, the more interest you’re paying—this time in the form of stress, sleepless nights, and disengagement.

So that’s it. That’s the crusade I’m heading out on. I want to help people see the cost of avoiding conflict. I’m going to call out the high price we’re paying to service that debt. I’m going to teach people how to pay off their conflicts in cash; how to use skills that make it easier to deal with the issue before it spirals out of control.

My first speech is booked for January 24th in Toronto. Time to get to work!

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

19 Responses to Conflict Debt

  1. Rhonda St. Croix

    Important perspective on conflict Liane. It’s especially important in times of change (and who isn’t navigating change these days) to be able to work with conflict and disagreement. Looking forward to more about this and especially the skills to address differences in order to build better understanding and relationships. Good luck with your talk. – Rhonda

    • 3coze

      Thanks so much Rhonda. I agree, change does make these skills so much more important. Thanks for your good wishes…it’s helping energize me to get back to work on the speech!

    • 3coze

      Thanks Patti! I know I’ve fallen into conflict debt too. It’s really hard to come back from that point. At a session we were doing today, we were talking about when you get so far in debt that you declare bankruptcy…by leaving the organization, or somehow getting out of the relationship. Definitely want to avoid that!

  2. Cyndi Hernandez

    Yes, the concept of conflict debt makes sense for me. I see the results of it often. It would be helpful to consider pitfalls and strategies for “personality traits” – e.g. introverts vs. extroverts, or planners vs. improvisers.

    • 3coze

      Ok, Cyndi, that’s really helpful. I’ll consider some of the individual differences and maybe work different strategies into the workshop and the book.

  3. Anne DeFrancesco

    Great way to highlight the “value” of conflict. I am interested in hearing the thoughts of a few clients on this concept of conflict debt. Looking forward to your next blog and new book.

    • 3coze

      Hi Anne, thanks so much for joining the conversation. I’ve now shared the conflict debt idea with 3 clients and it’s amazing how quickly they take to it. All three groups have immediately started talking about where they have debt. One even mentioned how they think they’ve blown their “credit rating” with the person in question. What a powerful idea. Definitely more to come!

  4. Carol Tom

    Whole heartedly agree with your topic choice! Bravo! Understanding the need and having the courage and skills to navigate respectfully, tactfully and mindfully is essential. I really look forward to your thoughts and perspectives!

    • 3coze

      Hi Carol, we’re definitely on the same wavelength. I’m not trying to encourage more of the standard self-centred,unproductive conflict. Instead, I want to teach the methods for having conflict in a way that: 1) is nice 2) reduces emotional and defensive reactions; 3) builds rather than erodes trust; and 4) makes you a more valuable employee rather than getting you fired. It’s a fun challenge to take up. More next week!

  5. What a great topic, Liane! It resonated with me immediately. While I can’t help noticing that all of the comments so far are from women, I can assure you that we men are no less prone to running up conflict debt. However (and I want to be careful not to overgeneralize), it seems that men might be more likely to pay it off in other-directed behavior, like backstabbing, rather than by internalizing (stress and sleepless nights). Perhaps that’s something you can explore.

    • 3coze

      Hi Larry, I’m so glad the concept worked for you! I too noticed that the comments were from women. Interesting! I have certainly seen men direct their frustrations at others, perhaps more often than women. Sadly, the more equal our society becomes, the more we see all types of bad behavior from both genders! I will definitely explore those different reactions to conflict debt! Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  7. EB

    Ugh…I don’t participate in conflict debt. I address issues head on, in a professional manner. But this is hard to do when the person at the top is about appearances and wants everything to appear hunky dory at all times. Despite other high ranking folks singing my praises, I have been pushed off projects and practically out the door while this person surrounds themselves with yes men instead.

    • 3coze

      Hi Liz, thanks so much for your comment. I really feel for you. Sometimes its not our own conflict aversion, but those around us who are getting us into debt. Sadly, we’re the ones who usually pay the interest. I did write a post the might be helpful. How to deal with your “good news” leader. https://3coze.com/2015/02/18/good-news-leader/ There’s also advice in my book about how to deal with your Bobble Head team. I hope some of these tips might help you break the stalemate. Liane

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