28 November 2023

Knowing when you have to stand your ground

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Workplace conflict

When conflict avoidance becomes the norm issues tends to crop up more regularly. Photo: File.

Few people relish workplace arguments, especially those that boil over into serious conflict, but Leisa Molloy says avoiding these situations at all costs can sometimes be worse than fronting up to them.

Have you ever worked with someone who is conflict averse or conflict avoidant?

It’s important to know the difference. They seem the same, but there’s a small but interesting distinction.

People who are conflict averse don’t like conflict — they worry or become anxious about it and generally prefer not to experience situations that involve potential conflict.

That’s pretty much most of us, right?

When necessary, however, these individuals take a deep breath and are usually prepared to address the potential or existing conflict, despite the discomfort they feel.

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Conflict avoidant individuals share the same aversion to conflict but, rather than dealing with it, will actively avoid it at all costs.

This includes the types of disagreement or conflict that could be deemed as ‘healthy’ or instrumental in some way, such as an argument over the best way to approach a key project.

These individuals might tend to do the following:

Deny that a problem exists in the first place.

Actively avoid specific topics, people or situations.

Change the subject when something tricky comes up.

Regularly give in to others’ demands.

Withhold their thoughts or feelings on contentious issues.

Of course, being conflict-averse is completely normal — and very human.

Indeed, as humans we’re wired to avoid conflict, and often encouraged to avoid ‘rocking the boat’ by those around us.

So being conflict-averse isn’t problematic in itself, it’s when conflict avoidance becomes the ‘norm’ within teams and organisations that issues tend to crop up more regularly.

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Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Would you put yourself into a specific category?
  • Has your stance on conflict changed over time?

What experiences have you had of working in teams or groups where conflict was actively avoided?

Leisa Molloy is a workplace psychologist and consultant. She also facilitates leadership development sessions with an emphasis on psychological safety. This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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