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Help! My Manager Avoids Conflict, Will That Will Damage My Career.

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Addressing conflict is one of the most challenging tasks a manager has. As a result, most managers avoid having the necessary difficult conversations because they fear conflict. Dealing with conflict is a part of the job people don’t think about until they’ve settled into their new management position. A typical manager spends 24 – 60 percent of their time managing conflict. As a result, a boss who avoids it is missing a huge opportunity to manage the business in a more valuable way. Even more so, having a manager who scurries and hides from conflict hurts everyone in the office.

Conflict adverse managers are uncomfortable with opposing viewpoints, tough conversations, and anything that challenges the status quo. The newly adopted remote-working environment makes it even harder for managers to face their fear of difficult conversations. Unfortunately, conflict is a part of every workplace. Wherever you have people, there will be conflicting priorities, goals, aspirations, and agendas. Someone will inevitably do something that conflicts with what somebody else is trying to achieve.

How does a conflict-adverse manager impact the team?

  • They delay decision making
  • It punishes top-performers because they have to work harder to compensate for the low-performers
  • They change direction frequently in an effort to please everyone
  • High attrition of top performance and high retention of low performers
  • The team becomes dysfunctional because they don’t work through their interpersonal issues
  • Strained communication due to lack of transparency
  • Lack of teamwork creates an “I” focus rather than a “we” focus

Conflict avoidance is a lose-lose situation because managers refrain from addressing any issues. When employees don’t surface problems, the business can’t improve. Your company’s reputation suffers, which makes it challenging to recruit top talent or land big clients. The most damaging cause of managers who avoid conflict is that workplace bullies run rampant.

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How does working for a manager who avoids conflict affect you?

If you work for a manager who avoids conflict, you are impacted in two key areas. One, they will not fight for you, or your department with upper management. It results in the loss of big projects, reduction in resources, and unreasonable deadlines. There is no incentive to propose new ideas or develop solutions because they won’t disrupt the status quo.

Second, if your manager avoids conflict, you won’t receive the feedback and coaching necessary to advance your career. If your manager is a coward when it comes to addressing problems and uncomfortable topics, you miss out on developmental opportunities. They won’t advocate for your skills and talents when it comes time for promotions, raises or awards.

How can you tell if your manager is avoiding conflict?

These are the most common signs that you are working for a manager who avoids conflict. Being able to recognize you have a manager who fears conflict can help you cope and overcome the negative impact it has over your career.

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  1. Your manager is in denial that any issues exist. Managers who flat out deny issues excuse them as someone having a bad day or saying it will be better tomorrow.
  2. Your manager gets easily derailed when issues are surfaced. They allow a change in conversation by entertaining an utterly unrelated matter or issue, rather than bringing the conversation back to the topic at hand.
  3. Your manager completely withdrawals from the situation. They withdraw from the conversation by going quiet, rather than speaking and continuing the conversation. Furthermore, they do not moderate the discussion or make sure everyone has a chance to speak.
  4. When you solicit feedback they offer surface-level anecdotal information. It is usually positive in nature without anything tangible to improve.

How do you work with a manager that avoids conflict?

  1. Accept they are people-focused. Take the initiative to build consensus among the group by “campaigning” them individually. Use your skills of persuasion to sell your idea or solution. Obtaining buy-in before the meeting reduces or eliminates debate or conflict.
  2. Check your behavior. Make sure you aren’t approaching your manager too aggressively and come prepared with facts, not opinions. Don’t appear heavy-handed or close-minded with your issue or solution.
  3. Know where they stand on key issues. Listen carefully to the words they use and the body language they exhibit. Paying attention to these things will give you valuable context so you can align with their goals.
  4. Carefully plan your conversation to ensure a cooperative tone. The worst way to approach a manager who avoids conflict is to stomp in demanding action. Stay calm, ask open-ended questions, provide several options, so they have a choice. At the end of the conversation, summarize and ask for agreement on the next steps. Offer to help move things forward and get agreement on a follow-up meeting.
  5. Solicit feedback from peers and other leaders within the organization. Don’t expect actionable feedback that helps you improve from a manager who avoids conflict. Ask your peers, colleagues, and other leaders how you are doing, or what you can do better. Find an external mentor or coach to help grow your skills.

You typically can’t change your manager or coach them to overcome their fear of conflict. You can change the way you respond and communicate with them. Having a positive, collaborative, and non-threatening communication plan will help you survive if you are working for a manager who avoids conflict.

No, working for a manager who fears conflict isn’t fun, and it will push the limits of your patience. Implementing a new strategy for interacting with a conflict-adverse manager is worth the effort for your career and professional journey.

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Jason Cortel is currently the Director of Global Workforce Management for a leading technology company. He has been in customer service, marketing, and sales services for over 20 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in offshore and nearshore outsourcing. Jason is an avid Star Trek fan and is on a mission to change the universe by helping people develop professionally. He is driven to help managers and leaders lead their teams better. Jason is also a veteran in creating talent and office cultures.

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