The Real Cost of Conflict

It’s estimated that employees spend almost three hours per week arguing, and those arguments amount to $359 billion in hours that are focused on conflict instead of on productivity. You can read the statistics and white papers about the cost of conflict, but it isn’t going to motivate you or your managers. It’s not personal enough, and it’s probably not even close to correct. Maybe the argument actually improved the outcome. If those arguing are emotionally intelligent enough to stay with the conversation maybe all the statistics are a bit skewed.

People aren’t robots. Assuming your people are going to be massively productive if they aren’t arguing is ridiculous.

The truth is conflict costs nothing. Conflict only clarifies your desires, and your boundaries. Conflict urges you to grow. Conflict creates a contrast between where you are and where you want to be. You don’t even have to be engaged with another person to have conflict. You can have internal conflict. It’s called growth. So conflict costs you nothing. Conflict is not the problem. The problem is mismanagement. Mismanagement is Costly.


While conflict itself isn’t costly, mismanagement is. Mismanagement happens when a leader ignores conflict and turns a blind eye. Instead of mastering conflict conversations, the leader makes a promise that isn’t kept, moves the complainer to another department and excuses the rainmaker because they’re a good employee. Conflict is an alarm bell. It’s the first sign that attention and action is needed. In other words, the fire alarm isn’t the problem. The problem is the fire. When leader’s ignore conflict there’s a ripple effect: Absenteeism, quiet quitting, turnover, sabotage, discrimination. There’s a financial cost to mismanaged conflict.


Mismanaged conflict affects you mentally. The mental toll is the internal disturbance you experience when you need to make a decision but you keep procrastinating. You go back and forth, changing your mind, and failing to measure your decisions against mission, vision and values. As a result you get decision fatigue. You can’t sleep. You can’t focus. There’s a mental cost to mismanaged conflict.


Mismanaged conflict makes you lose confidence in yourself as a leader. You allow dysfunctional behavior and poor performance. You wait to give feedback or coaching until the annual review. On a scale of 1-5 the poor performers get a 2.5 because they have tenure, and the great employees get a 3 because there’s no budget for raises. You’re working in system (probably Government) where the environment doesn’t support real conflict management. So you work with what you’ve got. You want people to like you so you smile and pretend all is well. You can fool others but you can’t fool yourself. You train your brain to avoid and appease. You lose excitement about your job. There’s an emotional cost to mismanagement.


When you mismanage conflict, there’s a little voice telling you that you could do better. There’s an opportunity to face your fears, get the skills and mentoring you need, or even look for a better organization that doesn’t have a culture of avoidance. But you ignore your voice of wisdom. You listen to the other voice. The other voice tells you it’s all going to work out. The other voice says, “Why stir the pot when they’ve only got one more year left until retirement.” The other voice says, “The easy way out is a reorganization.”

Your inner conflict is between the part of you that wants a breakthrough and the part of you who wants comfort. There’s a spiritual cost to conflict mismanagement.


Conflict is not the problem. Mismanagement is the problem. If you’re paying the price financially, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, it’s time to take the one act of courage. Attain the skills to Master conflict conversations. If that doesn’t work, find another organization that doesn’t have a culture of avoidance.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, speaker, and the author of From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, or at