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Conflict Aversion in the Workplace

Conflict Aversion in the Workplace

Having a highly empathetic work space is a lovely thing, but we’ve also been trained by society that we should go along to get along.

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Brene’ Brown says “Clear is kind.” Make it a workplace mantra and you’ll see exactly why.

If you see behavior that doesn’t seem right, but you don’t want to make waves:

  • is it making you or anyone else uncomfortable?
  • is it detrimental to employee morale?
  • is it disrespectful?
  • does it discourage team work?

Yes? Time to step up.

Letting this go on makes YOU complicit. How do you handle this?

Establish a boundary: (do it with an exclamation to stop the behavior with surprise and then set the boundary)

  • “Oh, I don’t think that behavior is appropriate.”
  • “Oh, what’s your intent when you do that?”
  • “Oh, that’s not good for this team.”

If this seems too direct for you — just remember that not stopping it when you see it can lead to more of that behavior in the individual and show others it’s okay to copy.

Still not ready? Please try in small ways to step up –

  • Approach the witnesses and confirm they felt the same way when the individual isn’t around. Give voice to that behavior. People can embolden one another his way
  • Tell your supervisor immediately. If the person IS your supervisor, go a level up. In cases like this, it is ALWAYS okay to go up

If your company aims to be an inclusive, safe space for EVERYONE — include its staff.

Are you conflict averse?

  • Conceding to things you don’t agree with even if you have very good reasons that are not being validated.
  • Changing or avoiding the subject
  • Separating yourself from situations, including leaving a position
  • Have trouble asking clarifying questions
  • End up frequently underwater and in trouble for missing deadlines or are unable to perform as expected but have not spoken up about the issue

What happens if you avoid confrontation:

  • Stress within you will rise — you’ll be afraid or resent the next encounter and behave accordingly
  • Stress within the organization will rise — others will feel it and start to avoid you or the situation, modeling your conflict aversion
  • You’ll miss other opportunities: letting something happen without calling it out and then someone finding out means trust will be diminished for you.
  • Making fear-based decisions: instead of just doing things, you’ll be avoiding situations and creating a culture that supports that

How do you stop being conflict averse?

Imagine positive outcomes:

Think about what could happen if this goes positively. This company supports confrontation and conflict resolution. Even if the person that you have to push back on doesn’t. That person will not last in a healthy company environment.

Identify shared goals:

People being problematic may be under stress, may be avoiding conflict themselves. Identify their goals and speak to them.


You might say the wrong thing, or go way overboard with this new behavior. Try it at a restaurant by asking for a specific change, say it to someone safe that you know likes you unconditionally. Pat yourself on the back when you do. You can even stop it after the fact by approaching the person with the behavior and offering validation and a solution.







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