Conflict-​Averse Managers: Here’s How to Stop Avoiding that Dreaded Encounter

BY C. Lee Smith
Featured image for “Conflict-​Averse Managers: Here’s How to Stop Avoiding that Dreaded Encounter”

If you’ve been managing people for any length of time, you know it’s not always fun. You’ll have great days when you're cheering about a team member’s win. And, then, you’ll have some truly challenging days. You know what I’m talking about. It’s those days when you have to address an employee performance issue. If you’re conflict-​averse, you may be avoiding these encounters.

When you avoid an employee-​related problem, you’re damaging your credibility as a manager. Your inaction also demotivates other team members. If they see a co-​worker consistently taking long lunches, and not being asked to change their behavior, resentment grows. To stop this problem from getting any worse, take action as advised by Steve Sisler.

In a recent Manage Smarter podcast, Sisler, president of the Behavior Resource Group, discusses how to understand and address your motivations as a conflict-​averse individual. He describes one situation involving a manager who didn’t want to ask an employee to stop coming in late.

A highly altruistic person, this kind of manager [conflict averse] sees the value in other people sooner than they see the value in themselves.” As a result, these managers find it hard to say anything confrontational to someone else.

If you’re not comfortable telling an employee to change their behavior, try a different approach. Since you don’t want to be the ‘bad guy,’ one of Sisler's suggested workarounds is to blame company policy. Tell the employee that everyone else is coming to work on time, because that’s what the policy requires. So they must follow the policy, too. By bringing in the higher authority, the conflict averse manager escapes having the employee’s resentment directed at them.

Sisler points out that conflict averse individuals often don’t possess the ability to become angry. And anger is often the emotion that drives conflict. In Sisler’s opinion, four energy systems drive human behavior: anger, optimism, fear and patience. If you have too much anger, Sisler points out, you can turn into a manager everyone avoids. Why? Because you’re looking for conflict even there isn’t any.

To succeed as a manager, think about what motivates you. Take a personality assessment and study the results. Then review the motivators of the individuals on your team. Once you have that information, think logically about the best way for you to approach each person in every type of situation. Thinking they want to be treated the same way you want to be treated can easily make things worse in many cases.