Team dysfunction is at the heart of much organizational dysfunction. After all, people comprise teams and teams create organizations. Or, let’s work backwards: if we want to improve organizations, we need to develop individual people. Notice I said, “develop,” not “fix” or “improve.” Our view of personal growth historically also comes from a paradigm of lack or negativity—something must be wrong if you don’t know it all—which is why so many leaders pretend they already know everything.

The truth is, since individual team members are on the frontline, so to speak, they are likely to experience flaws in process that need innovating. Also, since they are interacting with customers and other departments within the organization (hopefully, anyway; silos are epidemic), they may just have some tips for improving the system of the organization.

Yet, because of fear of conflict, communication between leaders and team members are often suboptimal. Why is this? There are a variety of reasons. I’m just going to touch on one: perception. Fear of conflict stems from lack of trust and fear of vulnerability. It’s not that biology has pre-programmed us to be mistrusting and fear to own up to the fact that we are human beings in the process of uncovering our potential. I’d venture to say that most—and I do mean most—of our trouble right now is that we as “humankind” are stuck.

We have wired our amazing brains to perceive constant threat and competition instead of cooperation. Due to this wiring from a very early age, we have programmed ourselves to self-protect with a tendency to fight instead of cooperate. I’m going to give some general examples of what blocks trust and vulnerability as it relates to perception, and how this leads to fear of conflict. I’m not implying that this short blog post is going to be all-encompassing, just a start to consider.

#1. Trust. When leaders are belittling to team members or create a culture that discourages input, feedback, and “getting other voices” in the room, self-protection will surely kick in. And chances are, as a leader you will not have honest feedback. People fear potential conflict with the leader.

#2. Fear of Vulnerability. Vulnerability is often given the connotation of “weak.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. It actually takes courage, “fearless” or “less-fear” to be vulnerable as a leader. Also, the connotation of vulnerability implies that one shares information that is personal. Of course, use your judgment, but just admitting that you don’t have all the answers as a leader comes from confidence and strength, not weakness. Of course, if you need to do your homework and learn some new things, get to it. If one is afraid to feel vulnerable, the tendency is to avoid disagreement.

#3. Fear of Conflict. Of course, number one and two contribute to this. Then there is the social programming that goes on. Some people feel insecure and take things personally if others disagree with them. Actually, our opinion or point of view always comes from OUR opinion or point of view. Our brain can create “cataracts of the heart and mind,” or blind spots that keep us from seeing new ideas or flaws in our way of thinking. It’s not good or bad; it’s just that the environment changes. What worked yesterday may not work today. Stop taking it personally. Then there is fear of rejection.

Again, as we learn how to proactively retrain our brain and get some real self-esteem and confidence in our bones, we will be less likely to be offended or as defensive as we may have habitually responded in the past. When we can allow others to “Be YOU, Magnificently,” coming from a culture where people are respectful of others’ ideas, even if they are not always applied, more team cooperation and innovative ideas can flow. And this has to begin with the leader.

Fear of conflict feels scary because we as a society have not had training on conflict management or brain awareness. We are triggering our “flight, fight, or freeze” self-defense response in an over-reactive way. We’ve done the best we could until this point. I envision the day when our educational system will transform and begin to actually teach life skills that can be used in our personal and professional careers at a much higher level of development.

We can, within business organizations, still begin to learn this process now as adults who desire to tap more of their true potential. In the meantime, only working on team-building skill sets is not cutting it. We are going to have to lead as leaders, a new paradigm, a new way of thinking. We need to learn how to change our perception and start to address our brain and learn how to proactively engage instead of continuing to react like a robot, which is due to lack of how are have/are currently training our brain. What do you think about retraining your brain for leadership effectiveness?

Author's Bio: 

Valencia Ray, M.D. teaches business owners and corporate leaders how their amazing brain can actually hijack personal power -- not in the abstract, but in the context of integrating business and personal life. Dr. Ray, a board-certified eye surgeon and medical business owner for over 20 years before selling her practice, shares her own life changing process. By sharing her story, she helps others to expand their vision and learn that by living with purpose and confidence, it is possible to have a more integrated, healthier lifestyle – with less struggle, more inner peace and more abundance.

For more information and to contact her regarding dynamic, inspirational keynotes, trainings in collaborative leadership and team building, entrepreneurship and coaching programs, visit her website at