Is It Safe?

Scott Warrick is an Employment/Labor attorney, human resource professional and a professional speaker.

Why is starting a new job one of the most stressful events we can experience?  Because it is a life-changing decision and we often don’t really know what we are getting ourselves into until it is too late.

Most people who are hired are able to perform the technical aspects of the new job … or at least they can learn them.  That isn’t usually the issue when it comes to job satisfaction and whether you will be happy in this new organization.

The biggest problem in determining if we are going to thrive and enjoy a job lies in the answers to such questions as:

  • What will my new boss react when I disagree?
  • What will my co-workers react when conflict arises?
  • How is conflict treated in this organization?

In other words, is this a “safe” environment I am joining?

If not, you may be signing up for a nightmare scenario.

Suppressing conflict is the worst thing an organization can do and the worst thing you can do to yourself personally.


All too often, public sector organizations are led by elected politicians or appointees.  These leaders are more than aware of “Public Record Laws,” which means their emails, internet trails and most of what they write down is open and available to the public.

They are also terrified of public scrutiny.

As a result, internal conflict is often seen as a “bad thing” that could easily end up on the front page of the local newspaper or on CNN.  So, these leaders try to simply suppress any conflicts that arise.

Astonishingly, too many of us think that we actually have a choice in whether or not we have conflicts.  That is ridiculous.

I have even had public officials tell their staff, “I don’t want any conflicts here.”

That simply is not possible and it is a recipe for disaster.

We all have conflicts.  Actually, in the time you have been reading this article, someone has had a conflict with someone else in your organization.

Determining whether you are going to have any conflicts in your life is like deciding whether you are going to breathe air.  Of course, you are!  It is unavoidable.

Whether we are going to have conflicts is never the right question to ask.  The proper question to ask is, “How are we going to handle this conflict?”

  • Are we going to escalate it, which is when we go into “fight” mode,
  • Are we going to suppress it, which is when we go into “flight” mode, or
  • Are we going to resolve the conflict?

Unfortunately, we are all human.  So, all communication theories are based on the most basic of all human reactions:  “fight or flight.”  This means when some people find themselves in a conflict situation, they go into fight mode and become “Attackers.”  They become Simon Cowell.  This, of course, does nothing but create an atmosphere of fear throughout the organization.

On the other hand, most people prefer not to fight.  When most people find themselves in a conflict situation, they would prefer to not engage in the conflict and simply run away.  Therefore, when most people find themselves in conflict situations, they prefer to go into “flight” mode, which means they become “Retreaters” and suppress the conflict.  They do not confront others with the problem, but instead, they let it fester like a cancer … where it will grow into a monster.

As a result, most people will not discuss their conflict with you.  Instead, they will smile to your face, and then stab you in the back when you are not around.

This creates the “jungle” environments most of us work in today.  Of course, this is just another form of bullying that destroys our organizations and ourselves.

NASA had the perfect “Retreating” or “Suppressing” environment, which resulted in blowing two space shuttles out of the air:  Challenger and Columbia.

Interestingly, the rocket engineers at NASA knew there were problems with Challenger and Columbia.  However, when these technical problems were brought to the attention of NASA leadership, the engineers were not thanked for this vital information.  Instead, they were threatened with their jobs and told to ignore these critical issues.


Because the leadership did not want to hear bad news.  They did not want to hear anything that was going to interrupt their production schedule.  So, they suppressed this vital information and simply rationalized away what they did not want to hear.  In the end, 14 astronauts were killed, and some say, murdered.

And what happened to the NASA engineers who brought this information to light?  Many of them suffered from emotional and health problems, so they took early retirement.

If you have ever had that job where you get a sick feeling in your gut just thinking about going into that hell-hole, you will understand why.

If you end up working in a job where you get that tight feeling in your gut whenever you think about going into work, that is your emotional system going into fight or flight.  Your body thinks you are under attack, so it is releasing massive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline into your system.  As a result, these distress chemicals are flooding your body and you need to think:

I am smoking a cigarette.

With all of the research that has been done on the health effects of distress on our health, it is clear that the distress we experience due to living in such oppressive environments is killing us … literally.

Several studies show that this type of chronic on-going distress is every bit as bad for our health as smoking … and some studies have shown that chronic distress is far worse than smoking.  In one study, researchers found that cigarette smoking increases your mortality rate by a factor of 1.6, which means cigarette smoking will increase your chance of premature death by 60%.  (Of course, everyone has a mortality factor of 1.0.)  However, in this study, the distress experienced by the subjects increased their mortality rate by a factor of 2.0.

In other words, chronic distress is 40% worse for your health than smoking.  It can almost double your chance of premature death.

That is what working in such a distressful environment will do to you.

Actually, such daily interpersonal distress will likely cause all of the following health issues:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke
  • Lowered Immune System
  • Aging Beyond Your Years
  • Memory Loss
  • Mental Impairments

Suppressing conflict is the worst thing an organization can do and the worst thing you can do to yourself personally.

Therefore, before taking any position with an organization, it is vital to understand what the culture is regarding conflict resolution.  You can certainly ask questions of your interviewers about this topic, such as:

  • How does this organization view conflict?
  • Is it acceptable to disagree with the leadership?
  • Tell me about an instance where someone brought up bad news to someone in leadership? What was the situation and how did it end up?

Of course, the interviewers will most likely all lie to you and tell you that they encourage input of all kinds.

So, ask if the interviewers if the staff, and leadership specifically, have been trained in “Conflict Resolution,” which should also include aspects of Emotional Intelligence.

(Emotional Intelligence is, basically, the ability to control your ego and emotions, which is the most vital skill set we humans could ever try to master.  If you cannot control yourself, nothing good happens … period.)

If someone has not received specific training in these areas, then they tend to revert to their caveman instincts and rely on their fight or flight response to resolve conflicts … which does not work.

No training equal a jungle environment.

If the organization, including the leadership, have not received such training, are they open to the idea?

You should also find as many former or current employees to ask so you can hopefully get to the truth.

  • How does this organization view conflict?
  • Is it safe to disagree with the leadership?
  • Are you aware of someone who brought up bad news to the leadership? How did it go?

Investigating how the organization has handled conflict in the past will be a critical factor in determining how it will handle conflict in the future.  Getting the truth on this simple issue should weigh heavily on your decision to join any organization.

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