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Is Conflict Avoidance Holding Your Team Back?

By Joey Havens

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This blog is the ninth in the series, My Top 10 Blunders and How You Can Avoid Them. 

Today, one of the biggest challenges is conflict avoidance and it has certainly been a challenge for our firm. When you bring up the topic, people are quick to dismiss it as “not a problem” in their firm or team, yet I personally believe that it is a prevalent issue within almost all organizations that severely limits innovation and creativity. As I reflect on my own career and personal development, there have been too many hard conversations, controversial ideas, differing opinions, that I simply made an easy habit of avoiding. In fact, if I knew a team member had a strong belief that was contrary to mine, I simply preferred to avoid that person or discussion.

As my role in leadership expanded, this became a real barrier for me. Problems that could have been resolved early on became bigger issues. I surprised too many team members with evaluation comments or concerns about performance that would not have been a surprise if I had communicated in a timely fashion. I missed the opportunity to help coach them along the way with constructive comments when issues arose. Truthfully, too many bad ideas and too much status quo lived too long because I did not challenge them. 

I decided to make a conscious effort to increase my self-awareness of this bad habit. I participated in courses on communication and difficult conversations.  And I focused my personal development on building these communication skills.

When I learned to have timely conversations with candor and respect, fewer issues became a crisis. Our teams gravitated to the best paths due to open deliberation of ideas and opinions. We got better when status quo was no longer the norm, and my team members grew faster with better and timely feedback. I must say, it was liberating, empowering and refreshing. Why did I ever avoid it?

My advice: Develop the skill of open, honest and direct communication. Practice having hard conversations. Ask yourself, why am I avoiding this?  Don’t delay important feedback. In doing so, it simply delays making progress. A good sense of timing helps athletes and business people alike so focus on being timely with constructive feedback. Establish an atmosphere of caring and trust and promote candor with respect.