Navigating Conflict:

The Pitfalls of Prioritising Peace in Business

Wendy Bergsteedt and Chrizelda Walters

Burnout among high performers.

In many workplaces, managers tend to shy away from addressing the consistent underperformance of team members, fearing difficult conversations. However, this avoidance can ultimately lead to burnout among those who consistently excel.

Stepping beyond the boundaries of artificial harmony and welcoming healthy conflict within a business environment is key to unlocking the full potential of individuals and teams. Yet, this transition is not without its challenges and demands a commitment to nurturing, self-reflection, and a deeper awareness of our blind spots. The phrase “If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself” succinctly captures the repercussions of fostering artificial harmony among team members.

A prevalent misconception is the notion that harmony within teams is always desirable and inherently leads to favourable outcomes.

Many leaders aspire to cultivate a work environment characterised by minimal conflict or discord. However, it’s unrealistic to expect unanimous agreement and consensus on every issue that arises. Consequently, leaders must ponder whether the absence of conflict truly aligns with their desired outcomes, especially if unanimity pervades the team’s discourse.

Fostering Healthy Conflict

Engaging in robust debates and facing disagreements head-on can be daunting for certain individuals. Many team members shy away from conflict, preferring to maintain harmony at all costs. However, avoiding conflict often leads to surface-level agreements that mask underlying tensions. This reluctance to express genuine opinions can breed resentment  among colleagues who share similar sentiments after meetings. 

Such dynamics corrode trust, dampen motivation, and ultimately impede performance and productivity.

Recognising the importance of self-awareness is paramount. Self-awareness entails understanding one’s strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities accurately. It profoundly influences how individuals within a team collaborate, communicate, and perform. Lack of self-awareness disconnects us from how others perceive us, hindering both personal and collective success.

Teams frequently grapple with the challenge of identifying their blind spots—traits or behaviours unnoticed until brought to attention. Offering tools like the Enneagram can significantly benefit businesses by illuminating diverse personality traits and potential blind spots. This heightened awareness empowers teams to optimise their performance by addressing hidden obstacles.

Artificial Harmony


When we pretend to agree to avoid discomfort, our brains react negatively because our thoughts and actions don’t match. This creates a false sense of unity among team members, known as artificial harmony.

This phenomenon is widespread in business and corporate settings, where speaking up is often viewed as risky.

According to Patrick Lencioni, artificial harmony occurs when we act like we’re in agreement while actually harbouring frustrations and dislikes.

Teams typically progress through stages of development as they define shared values, priorities, and ways of working together.

Artificial Harmony In Action

Managers often shy away from addressing consistent underperformance in team members, preferring to delegate tasks to the star performers. This imbalance leads to burnout among the top performers.

Artificial harmony in action manifests as underlying resentment among all team members – high achievers, low performers, and managers alike.

Exceptional Teams

Teams that engage in self-reflection and establish clear agreements and effective collaboration methods maximise their potential. Exceptional teams aren’t born; they’re created through consistent effort.

These teams consistently surpass expectations and achieve ambitious goals. They prioritise smart work over mere compliance, producing outstanding results.

Extraordinary outcomes are often achieved in environments built on trust, diversity, and transparency – qualities that require cultivation. Exceptional teams embrace diverse perspectives and opinions, recognising their value in solving complex challenges.

To navigate business complexities effectively, teams must adopt an agile and adaptive mindset, guided by leaders who amplify diverse viewpoints in service of a larger purpose.

Building Genuine Team Harmony

Even in top-performing teams, having different ways of thinking can sometimes feel uneasy. It’s crucial to dedicate time and effort to help your team get comfortable with healthy disagreements. Changing ingrained habits takes time, both for individuals and teams. Recognising everyone’s perspectives and understanding how they handle disagreements is crucial because these can vary greatly.

Here are some steps to improve a person’s or team’s ability to handle conflicting views:

  • Recognise your comfort zones and push beyond them.
  • Take breaks to reflect on and process experiences, reducing any anxiety.
  • Identify triggers that set you off and address them.
  • Learn effective strategies for navigating the discomfort that comes with lively discussions.
  • Establish common language within the team that promotes trust and respect.
  • Approach interactions with empathy and purpose.

True harmony doesn’t mean everyone always agrees; it’s about respecting differences while still collaborating effectively.

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