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Reversing Corporate Conflict Avoidance in 2 Steps

Executives and leaders have a responsibility to create an environment where all of their employees work together toward a common goal. This, when done right, will enable the company to bring in enough revenue to keep everyone employed and to grow the business.

But after working with several hundred senior executives and business owners, I’ve seen a number of challenging interpersonal situations within teams that threaten the positive environment. I’ve also seen these leaders expect a simple resolution that doesn’t require them to get involved.

Why do executives avoid getting involved in these situations? Because no one really likes conflict.

Executive Avoidance

During interpersonal conflict on a team, an executive (generally) expects that the interaction or confrontation will be emotionally charged and uncomfortable at best. They may also expect the confrontation to provoke anger or hurt in the other person. The result? Before the executive ever actually talks to each party involved in the conflict, he or she feels anxious, which encourages the executive to avoid that conversation entirely.

Yet, more often than not, these executives actually believe the conversation actually took place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a senior executive, “Did you talk to X about Y?” To which they respond, “Yes, and I was perfectly clear.” Then, when I connect with the other person and ask them, “Did your boss talk to you about Y situation?” they will say, “Nope” … or “Yes, but I’m not sure what came of it.”

How in the world is that disconnect happening? It’s simple: the executive wasn’t clear. He or she talked around the conflict, or, in some cases, imagined they spoke with the person about it. Then, the employee walks away thinking, “Something is up, but I haven’t a clue what it is.” Or, they know the boss is upset with them but are not really sure why, and worse still, don’t know what to do about it.

The Disconnect During Conflict Resolution

In over 30 years of working with people, it’s been my experience that few executives and leaders know how to address conflict clearly. They don’t know how to describe what the employee is doing incorrectly or should do differently or better. All of this feeds into a vicious cycle that ends up in avoidance. The result is employees who dig themselves deeper into a hole and conflicts that eventually require major intervention.

By the time intervention occurs, it’s usually too late; the boss has given up or the people around the employees are so fed up that the employee won’t have a fair chance to turn things around. So, the only step left is termination, which can get ugly.

So what is the cure for this corporate conundrum? Preparation and practice.

How to Commit to Conflict Resolution

There are two key steps in stopping the cycle of conflict avoidance:

Preparation and practice.

Written by

Carl is a business psychologist and leadership development expert who focuses on the development of high performance leaders.

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