Conflict problem? Not me, not here……


Do you have a conflict problem at work? If there isn’t enough open disagreement in your team then you probably do

Over the past year I have noticed a worrying trend in organisations I work with – a distinct rise in the number of leaders who are inadvertently fostering a passive aggressive culture at work. Do you experience team meetings where senior managers rarely express dissent, diversity of opinion, or frustration? Do those in authority appear avoidant, and indirect in their communication? Do team leaders routinely avoid calling out bad behaviour or address an individual’s failure to deliver on commitments?

The cost of a passive-aggressive culture at work is significant

At a business level, the negative effects include slow decision making, poor risk identification and mitigation, and stalled execution. At team level, unspoken frustrations erode trust, interfere with communication, and contribute to animosity. The result is stagnation – unresolved issues, and staff who are demotivated, uninspired and unproductive. The prolonged stress of unaddressed conflict starts to become a health issue for many.

Passive aggressiveness is the indirect expression of hostility

Passive aggression can take the form of negativity, sullenness, and overt resistance, but allowing fellow workers to “take things offline”, use sarcasm in meetings and tolerate gossip are also clear signs that you are allowing a passive aggressive culture to develop. As a leader, I believe a key role you have is to encourage productive conflict by surfacing issues that would otherwise go underground. Reflect on your own mindset regarding conflict. If you think you are conflict avoidant, you may need to do something about this.

This is a leadership issue

Passive-aggressive behaviour will reduce your effectiveness as a leader. You will find it difficult to create followership and alignment, and your best people will undoubtedly suffer from frustration, stress, and anxiety if they have to work in an environment where passive aggression is the norm.

As a leader, what you can do to promote a more open culture

It may sound counter intuitive, but often the route to increased productivity and decreased stress is to encourage more conflict, not less.

  • START – understanding and recognising passive aggressive behaviour
  • STOP – role modelling it, or tolerating it, in the workplace
  • CONTINUE – to take every opportunity to foster open, direct, and productive conversations. Encourage an environment where people are comfortable with open disagreement and having difficult conversations