Nick (name changed for confidentiality purposes) called me on a Sunday afternoon and shared his dilemma for the board meeting the next day. He sounded very anxious. He said he was avoiding calling me on Sunday, but then he needed to speak to somebody, so he called. Nick is the CEO of a tech company. Nick is a hard-working, people -centric CEO and we have been working together for some time. Nick really hates conflicts. He expects people to work amicably together to achieve the goals. He knows that Monday’s board meeting is going to be a conflict situation. He is not able to see anything beyond that. The fear of facing conflict was very strong and he was seriously considering a compromise on his part to avoid the conflict.
Who avoids conflicts?
The major characteristics of conflict avoiders are that they have a need to please people around them. They don’t want hurt others feelings directly. Their perception is that they are peace-makers and that they are doing a favour to the world by avoiding conflicts. Even when they feel angry/uncomfortable in a situation, they may hide their feelings and choose not to express them. They prefer to be seen as nice people. They live with a fear of disappointing others.
Most of this comes from our attitude and social conditioning that conflict is bad.
What happens when you avoid conflict?
When you avoid conflict:
- You are suppressing your feelings. You are avoiding the actual feelings and working to overwrite them with positive feelings almost continuously. Hence you are constantly spending your energy inside on this fight.
- You may be even hesitating to share the feedback to avoid conflicts and may not be perceived as a good leader. People may think that you have great opinion about them but actually you feel that they need a lot of improvement. They will be surprised by their average appraisals and poor career progress and realise that they do not know what to make of your comments. They will wonder if they really understand you at all or if you mean anything by your words.
- As you fear confrontation and are not able to share how you feel, you may feel lonely due to lack of opportunities to express yourself. Supressing your feelings for a long time, is dangerous for your health too.
- People may see you as a ‘yes’ person, rather than an idea person.
- People will not know you fully as you are trying to behave in a way, which is not really you.
- You may not be very close to people as you are always on a check and avoiding the conflict situations. Some conflicts are good for a relationship.
- Without any conflicts, you may become too good to be true and people might not be able to establish trust with you.
Your journey onwards
Leaders need to be ready for conflicts. Most of the good ideas emerge from conflicting thoughts. Leaders must look at conflicts as good, as an opportunity to discover new things. Let us see how we can change the internal narrative around conflicts.
- Change your story: Conflicts are unavoidable. It is the time you change the story in your mind. Your mind constantly tells you, it is fire, and don’t touch it. Be aware of those situations, and then practice changing your story by telling your mind that everyone is unique and have their own perspectives. Your perspective is equally important, sharing your perspective is the act of courageousness.
- Stop judging yourself and others: In one way, when you avoid conflicts, you are judging yourselves and others. One way you judge could be that your perspective may hurt others, or you may perceive that the other person is not ready to listen. So, you avoid the discussion even when others may be waiting to listen to your perspective. You are judging based on your perspective. Break that shackle and give yourself an opportunity to speak up.
- Listening without judgement: To handle a conflict, you also need to listen completely to the other party, that way you will be more confident about their thoughts. Ask open ended questions to understand more, like-
- What makes your say this?
- What are we achieving by doing this?
- What is the risk in doing this?
- What will we lose here?
- What will we gain? etc.
- Express yourself: Connecting to your feelings, owning them, and sharing them is a great strength of a leader. Name your feeling and share it in a professional and inclusive way. When you share your feelings in an inclusive way, you don’t categorize other person as opposite to you, rather you are putting your perspective and indicating that you are open to listen and co-create. Co-creation is a big relief to avoiders. You can use sentences such as-
- I am feeling that this solution may not work because of these two reasons. What do you think about this?
- I like this about your idea…..and I would like us to also think about the customer’s last year’s strategy. I suggest we reflect on these two points before we conclude.
If you are somebody, who is avoiding conflicts, you are not alone, there are many leaders, who do that.
Do reflect on the above suggestions and let me know if it works for your or not!