We all know that conflict is a part of leadership, but I don’t know many good leaders who relish conflict. Effective teams experience conflict because it’s impossible to reach important and challenging goals without conflict. Of course, if you like conflict too much, it raises some red flags, and we become a little concerned about you. Nevertheless, if you cannot become adept at successfully handling conflict, it will be a definite hindrance to you as a leader. Too many leaders rely only on “avoidance” as a way to deal with conflict.
We try to avoid conflict when we ignore the problem, procrastinate, or try to shift responsibility to someone else. At first glance, this may always seem like a bad approach; however, there may be times when avoidance is a great approach! For example, if someone demands to have an immediate meeting with you over a complicated issue, it may be wise to put that meeting off until you can be properly prepared.
In a similar way, seasoned leaders learn that not every conflict deserves attention. Some of them will burn themselves out for a lack of oxygen. As was said about Phil Jackson in Eleven Rings, “No one does nothing better than Phil.” Overly-eager leaders can be too quick to solve every problem and address every issue. Sometimes, that pressure can come from others who loudly demand, “You have to take a stand. You have to do something!” Sometimes they are right, but many times, their advice is driven by their own agenda.
On the other hand, avoiding conflict can be carried too far, and when you carry it too far, there are always negative consequences. There may be many, but let me mention three common ones:
- Confidence: Your team may lose confidence in your courage and/or your leadership because you don’t take action. As a leader, you have to know when it’s time to take action.
- Complications: A bad problem may get worse and become even more complex because it is not confronted in the right way at the right time. This is what leads to rampant dysfunctional patterns within an organization.
- Conflicting Solutions: Sometimes in the void of your leadership, other people will create solutions. At first, you may be glad about this, but you may discover that the solutions that others propose or create may conflict with other objectives you have. They may even solve one problem only to create three new ones.
Avoidance is not a good default approach for conflict. If you choose to use it, there needs to be a good reason, and you need to be able to articulate those reasons.