I recently re-listened to an episode of Harvard Business Review's Ideacast on conflict seekers and conflict avoiders, and how each group approaches issues.

Conflict avoiders were characterized as people who value relationship-building and avoid confrontation for the sake of protecting a relationship--the pleasers and doers. Conflict seekers deliver honest and direct feedback. They're okay with ruffling some feathers.

There's a mix of seekers and avoiders in every organization and at all levels. However, to be an effective manager, you usually can't be an avoider. The role of management isn't to be a people-pleaser. It's to develop people. It's not the training department's job to do that.

Managers are in the business of people development, and they can't lose track of that. When managers are avoiders, they're managing out of fear. Fear that their staff will leave or fear they won't be liked. But management isn't about being liked. It's about being respected, and when you deliver real feedback, regardless of whether it's popular or not, you earn respect.

Take a top performer who has a big ego and thinks they're above anyone and any task. They look for the spotlight before helping a teammate. They are curt in responses and disrespectful to their peers. When managers avoid confronting this employee, they fail as leaders. 

Now, are there times when it makes sense to be an avoider? Are there times when it's easier to be an avoider? Definitely. But you have to realize the difference between the two. 

When might it make sense to avoid conflict as opposed to addressing it head on? When a manager needs to invest in the employee relationship and holds back critiques because it's not the right time. Maybe the employee has gotten a lot of constructive feedback lately and isn't in a place where they can take on more. Perhaps they are going through a difficult time in their lives and normally their performance isn't like this. There are lots of reasons, the key is knowing your staff and having the perspective to know when to seek and when to defer. 

Leaders need to lead. No one said it was easy.

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Published on: Apr 22, 2019
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