Don't settle for excuses when conflict can be dealt with directly

April 15, 2006
Executives often avoid conflict rather than deal with it, along with a bunch of other excuses for letting it go. This article exposes those unworthy excuses and gives solid tips on how to actually deal with conflict head on.

One of the most pervasive problems within executive ranks is the frequency with which they avoid conflict.  This article presents a compendium of their excuses and attempts to dismantle each by revealing the flaws embedded  within.

Excuse #1:  I'm just not good at handling conflict.

So GET good at it.  Needing to improve your skills with conflict doesn't justify avoiding it in the present. Try this 4 step formula when addressing your adversary:  "When you____;  I feel _____;  because _____; therefore ________.

Excuse #2:  If I'm not feeling it, it doesn't exist.

If you're refusing to act because you've experienced no ill effects from others' conflict, understand that your immunity doesn't invalidate others' pain.  As the boss, you have a fiduciary responsibility to facilitate resolution among feuding subordinates whether it's affecting you or not.

Excuse #3:  If I ignore it, it'll go away.

I call this the ostrich mentality.  You can certainly stick your head in the sand, but not without simultaneously offering up what for most of us is a much larger alternative target, which will be much easier to hit since you're standing still!  Ignoring conflict just increases your risk.

Excuse #4:  If I confront, the conflict will get worse.

When executives tell me why they think confronting conflict will make it worse, their reasons are more often based on assumptions than on actual experience.  Are you making negative assumptions about what would happen if you confronted conflict in order to justify inaction?

Excuse #5:  It's not urgent, and I have other priorities.

Are you feigning other priorities to justify not having to deal with conflict?  Understand that conflict doesn't have to be urgent to poison the work environment.  Allow low grade hostilities to continue unchecked and they'll fester, infecting every functional activity and resulting in considerable productivity losses.

Excuse #6:   Solving their interpersonal problems isn't a good use of my time.

Then perhaps you should consider giving up the managerial function.

Excuse #7:  Executives should be able to solve their own conflicts without involving me.

Telling those at an impasse they should be able to solve it themselves isn't helpful.  Try getting each party to answer briefly the following questions regarding their conflict:  What's true right now? What would be the impact if nothing changes?  Now what are your recommendations? This process usually unearths similar suggestions.

Excuse #8:  I don't want to be the "heavy."

Being the "heavy" is part of the weight your rank confers.  Be willing to carry it, or step aside and let someone lead who's willing to lead responsibly.

Excuse #9:  I don't care enough about the people involved in this conflict to want to fix it.

Then work somewhere else!  Don't kid yourself into thinking that others can't sense your toxic disdain. Realize too that your passive aggressive behavior is now a major part of the problem.

Excuse #10:  If I were to confront the conflict, I wouldn't be able to control my emotions.

Maturity involves giving up the luxury of behaving the way you feel. Learning to subordinate emotions to the achievement of targeted results is a key requirement for successful management & leadership.

Still feeling fear and trepidation about handling conflict?  Then get to a book store and purchase "Effective Phrases for Conducting Effective Performance Reviews" by James Neal.  Insert the words "does not" in front of any of the phrases he provides, and you're equipped to address any conflict. So. No more excuses!

For more information on developing your conflict management skills, e-mail Francie at [email protected] with "Conflict" as the subject line.

Francie Dalton is founder and president of Dalton Alliances Inc., a full-line business consultancy in Columbia, Maryland, specializing in the  behavioral, management and communication sciences.  Reach her at or by calling 410-715-0484.

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