Most people prefer to avoid conflict. There are a variety of reasons for this including the need to be liked, the pursuit for acceptance and the desire for stability in one's life. Unfortunately, great leaders cannot lead effectively without addressing conflict as it arises within the workplace. In fact, if they choose to avoid conflict at all costs, they can put their organizations at great risk.

Here are six bad things that happen when leaders routinely avoid addressing conflict in the workplace:

  1. Communications Become Strained: A conflict that goes unresolved will only fester and cause communication breakdowns to develop within the work unit.
  2. Teamwork Diminishes: As communications become strained within a team, cooperation and teamwork will lessen and animosity will build.
  3. Productivity Suffers: You just get more done when you work together. When teamwork goes south, so does productivity. Results suffer when the sense of togetherness is gone.
  4. The "Customer Experience" is Compromised: Team dysfunction is felt by the customer every time! It emerges as poor quality and reduced service delivery.
  5. The "Best and Brightest" Leave: A consequence of continuous conflict avoidance is the departure of your best people. Those that "can," will move on to greener pastures when their current work environment becomes unbearable.
  6. Brand Value Weakens: Over time, a firm's brand value weakens, too. Consumers will find substitute providers that deliver higher quality products and services and better customer experiences.

What Can You Do to Become Better at Addressing Conflict?

There are steps that you can take to be a better leader, even if conflict avoidance is a big part of your personality. Consider the following:

  • Develop and communicate your vision: Some conflicts can be avoided through clarity. So, develop a clear vision for what your team is to accomplish and communicate it. Help everyone understand what you're trying to do and how they fit in.
  • Set expectations: Once the long-term vision is understood, expectations of each team member should be set. Expectation setting is important because it establishes baselines for guiding behavior and results.
  • Monitor progress: By actively checking behavior and monitoring results any needed intervention can be provided earlier and larger conflicts can be averted.
  • Focus on results: You can keep personalities out of the discussion by focusing on outcomes. It's a way to keep everyone honest without making it personal. Teammates that aren't keeping up with the plan or, otherwise, are not meeting expectations can be "coached" based on facts rather than perceptions--which can make conflicts easier to address.
  • Do it now: Many of us tend to put off doing things that we prefer not to do. Do not put off addressing conflict situations. If the need to confront someone on your team arises, do it now. There is simply too much at stake to let it go or to wait for things to work themselves out.

Indeed, it is a leader's job to address issues as they arise. If we choose to avoid conflict at any price, the price may be far greater than we are willing to pay. The impact of conflict avoidance can ripple throughout the organization and cripple the future growth and success of the business. So, embrace conflict resolution. After all, conflict can be very healthy, too. It is often how we get the best answers to the toughest questions.

Published on: Oct 20, 2014
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