5 Internal Signs of Conflict

punch-316605_640 (2)Spain, July 2012.

79 people killed in a horrific train accident. Three warnings were given to reduce speed in the two minutes before the accident. All were ignored!

Accidents, train wrecks and business conflicts all have warning signs that are too often disregarded. The results are catastrophic.

In 2008, 385 million working days were consumed by conflict in American businesses. The cost is in the billions of dollars. One survey indicates that 42 percent of a manager’s time is dedicated to resolving conflicts.

When conflict occurs, what warning signs are ignored or overlooked? Every conflict has warning signs; when handled early and skillfully, most conflicts can be avoided or minimized. That makes a difference in the bottom line.

Two types of warning signs exist. There are internal signs present in the leader and external signs that operate within the business. This article will deal with five internal warning signs and how to handle them.

Warning Signs 

  1. The first warning sign is being emotionally drained. This can present itself in many ways. If you find yourself being unable to respond to unpleasant emotional situations, you could be facing trouble.

Perhaps you have no emotional response when there should be one. The other extreme is to have uncontrolled outbursts even when the circumstances are not emotionally charged. Drastic emotional swings need to be noted as they can serve to warn you of being emotionally drained.

The result of being on empty emotionally is that you tend to isolate and withdraw from the responsibilities of leadership. Over my 35 years of leading a multi-staff church, I have encountered several seasons of being on empty. One was particularly serious, and with medical intervention it took a year to recover.

  1. The second sign is angry outbursts. While the cause of these outbursts is within you, the damage is wounded people and broken relationships. A survey in the UK shows that 45 percent of adults regularly lost their temper at work. 33 percent of Britons are not on speaking terms with their neighbors.

Anger is a choice. Let me repeat that: Anger is a choice. Most people who struggle with anger have lost sight of that moment of choice. They believe the lie: “It is just the way I am.”

Anger shuts down those around you and keeps necessary conversations from happening. People decide it is not worth the tension and either move on or attack the source. The resulting conflict is ugly because some employees are loyal despite the outbursts, while others are deeply wounded.

  1. Warning sign number three is a lack of vision or direction. As the leader, you are entrusted with knowing and communicating the direction of the business. When this is lacking, trouble is not far away.

There are those on the team who are ready to fill the void with their version of where the business should go. They are natural leaders and cannot stand a vacuum when it comes to knowing the way forward.

Nature itself cannot stand a vacuum. When one occurs, the weatherman calls it a low pressure, and the result is a storm.

  1. The inability to share leadership is not only a sign but also a pathway to conflict. If not a full-blown conflict, this inability leads to organizational inefficiency and dissatisfaction.

When leadership is shared, it brings buy-in and commitment to the organization’s success. Without the opportunity to share in the leadership component of an organization, the best and brightest people leave.

Conflict occurs when those who do stay lose confidence in the leader’s ability to lead and bring other quality leaders into the organization. Since you cannot do it all, others get worn out and discouraged. Unhappy people are ripe for conflict.

  1. The final sign is the inability to allow disagreements. The element of “healthy conflict” is a must for success in any endeavor. When people are willing to disagree with you and you shut them down, you create a motive for dissension.

There is a good chance that they will harbor resentment, fear and hostility. When people see others getting the same treatment, they begin to congregate and lick their wounds. This provides the perfect setting for coalition formation. Remember the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Now what?

By being proactive and intentional you can take the necessary action to reduce, or prevent, conflict. The cost of a train wreck and an organizational conflict are astronomical.*

Prevention begins with observation. Remember the drowsy engineer? Most leaders are exhausted in today’s pressure-cooker world. Pressure to grow the business, lead the way with new and innovative ideas. Leaders are so exhausted they miss seeing the warning signs and before they know it the train is off the rails and the damage is done.

  1. Know and be aware of the warning signs. This is difficult for several reasons. Here are three common reasons. You don’t want to see them and therefore call them by other names. They have been a part of life for so long, they seem normal. You are simply so exhausted and overextended that there is no room for them in your thinking.
  2. Be brutally honest with yourself. No one likes looking into the mirror and seeing glaring faults and imperfections. Everyone else sees them but you hope that if you deny them, they will remain hidden from the world. If this were only true. The answer is acceptance and then work on correcting them. People will appreciate your honesty and effort; their respect for you will grow. 
  3. Team up with specialists who can help bring clarity to the situation. It might be a trusted friend, accountability partner or professional coach. The truth is, you are too close to the situation to see it clearly and in perspective. Over 69 percent of CEO in a Stanford survey listed conflict resolution as the number one coaching need. I know in my 35 years as a leader, I have several trusted friends and other leaders who gave me perspective and were willing to speak the truth in love. I needed that.

Train wrecks are usually avoidable when close attention is paid to the warning signs. Conflict, and its disastrous result, is also avoidable when preventive measures are in place and the warning signs heeded. Look around you and see what warning signs are present and then take action.

*I have created a Conflict Cost Assessment to help you understand the true cost of a conflict. You can download your free copy at http://drbg.co/YZfwyJ

Author: Bill Graybill, D.Min., PCC, is an Executive Coach, speaker, professional trainer and best selling author, specializing in conflict resolution, team building and organizational health. Bill works with professionals, organizations and churches. You can find more help at http://www.billgraybill.com or call him at 541-791-6544.





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