I’m super excited. I’ve finally found the big idea for the speech and book I’m working on. I’ve told you before that it’s about conflict—that’s been clear for a long time. But how do I convince people that conflict isn’t evil and it’s not going to make you a bad person, destroy your relationships, or get you fired? I finally figured out the problem…you’re in conflict debt.

What do I mean by “conflict debt?” Essentially, each time you avoid a discussion, debate, or disagreement that you should be having, you rack up conflict debt. If you should be introducing novel ideas to get your organization out of a rut but you think, “that’s gonna’ ruffle some feathers,” so you stay quiet, you’re incurring debt. If you should be telling a coworker that he’s not pulling his weight, but you just can’t be bothered starting a fight, that’s conflict debt.

The problem with conflict debt is that you pay interest on that debt. It’s the interest that’s slowing down your organization and killing you.

At the organization-level, I see companies fail to make the tough choices about what really matters. They have 7 priorities made of 27 sub-projects. They never say no to anything. That’s a big debt and it has a heavy interest payment in the form of overwork and diluted resources.

At the team-level, conflict debt can stem from someone who’s not doing their job properly, whether that’s due to a lack of skill or an attitude problem. When teams fail to confront the issue, they go into debt. The interest is paid by everyone else on the team who has to contort themselves into inefficient workarounds.

At the individual-level, you can probably list off a string of issues you’ve avoided and instead just “charged” to your conflict account. Maybe it’s a boss who isn’t giving you the credit you think you deserve. Perhaps it’s a teammate whom you suspect has been gossiping about you. No matter the issue, the longer you let it go without resolution, the more interest you’re paying—this time in the form of stress, sleepless nights, and disengagement.

So that’s it. That’s the crusade I’m heading out on. I want to help people see the cost of avoiding conflict. I’m going to call out the high price we’re paying to service that debt. I’m going to teach people how to pay off their conflicts in cash; how to use skills that make it easier to deal with the issue before it spirals out of control.

My first speech is booked for January 24th in Toronto. Time to get to work!

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.