Three Reasons Leaders Mismanage Conflict | Part 1

With over two decades of working with leaders at various levels within various organizations, I had an epiphany several years ago: Almost every conflict that escalates, from EEOC complaints, unwanted turnover and lack of engagement all the way to a toxic work environment, can be traced back to this: A conversation that should have happened but didn’t.

The result is a culture of avoidance.

Conflict avoidance stems from believing conflict is a problem. But conflict is not a problem. Mismanagement is the problem. This is the first of three installments that identify 3 common reasons leaders mismanage conflict, and how to make the shift. The first reason has to do with invisible forces.

Invisible forces

Carl Jung the prominent Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology, famously stated that “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” This quote underscores Jung’s belief that unless individuals become aware of and confront the workings of their unconscious mind, they may feel controlled by unseen forces and unable to steer their lives in a meaningful way.

In simple terms, we human beings are driven by internal, invisible forces that can only be changed once we become aware of the underlying structures. One invisible structure is the belief that we should avoid conflict at all costs.

How to make the shift: Consider examining and changing your definition of conflict. I suggest seeing conflict as opposing drives, desires and demands. Visualize arrows going in opposite directions, realizing that your boss, colleague or employee has a different drive, demand or desire than you. This new definition allows space for curiosity.

What drives them? What desires are in competition with your demands? For example, most front-line employees don’t understand the demands of their leaders or the organizational goals. By opening dialogue about the various demands, drives and desires, you create understanding, collaboration and alignment.

Call to action
Do you want to learn how to have conversations that improve communication, improve relationships and improve results? Email me at

Marlene Chism