I Don’t Like Conflict. Well Who Does?


I Don’t Like Conflict. Well Who Does?

It always fascinates me when I ask business owners or their staff about problems in their business because nine times out of ten, they tell me the problem and then when I ask, why haven’t you talked to the person about it, the answer is, “Ohh, I don’t like conflict”.

To which, I just shake my head. Because guess what? No one likes conflict! In all my working life (over twenty years), I have never met someone who says, “Well, I love a bit of conflict to make my day.” Have you? Of course not! So, why does everyone use this phrase as the reason for not dealing with issues?

It is because, unfortunately, we accept this as a valid reason when it is actually just an excuse, and a poor one at that. If you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s too harsh”, then remember back to the last time you avoided dealing with an issue then and there because ‘you don’t like conflict’. What was the result?

I bet you it was one of these:

  • Avoiding the issue created a bigger issue which blew up down the track.
  • You lost a good staff member because they were sick of the poor performer getting away with murder, so they left.
  • Mistakes cost you time, customers and money (real, potential, rework).
  • Morale within your team dropped and was replaced with frustration.

So how’s avoiding the ‘conflict’ working for you?

It’s not, is it? When I help business owners and their teams solve the problems costing their business time and money, it usually hinges around:

  • Lack of or inappropriate communication.
  • Little or no documented systems about how we do things at Business XYZ.

And these people issues can be:

  • Agreeing to or approving things when there is no authority to do so.
  • Promising to do something and never doing it, i.e. all talk and no action.
  • Letting people get away with not doing everything that’s required for their job.
  • Fixing mistakes instead of training the person in what to do next time.
  • Making the fun or feel good decisions and forcing others to deal with the bad or uncomfortable ones because you don’t want to.
  • Believing some positions are more important and easier to do than others.
  • Rewarding those who complain rather than those who work hard.

But all of these issues could have been prevented by firstly having documented systems, and then secondly, addressing any transgressions as soon as they happen rather than waiting for a better time (which is code for never because the thought pattern is ‘if I leave it alone, it will resolve itself’); which is sooo incorrect.

W Edwards Deming said:

“94% of all failure is the right of the system, not the people.”

When I dig deep into a problem and how it came about, the majority of communication and thus people problems could have been solved by documenting three key systems:

1. Clarity of the role – What each person should and should not do in their position, usually in a position description.

2. Delegations – Outline what a person can and can’t do in their position which includes decision-making boundaries.

3. The ‘How To’ Manual – Outlining the steps for each task undertaken in each position.

Now think again about the ‘conflict’ situation you have avoided in the past.

Did you have any documented systems which clearly addressed what should’ve been done in that situation? If this answer is no, then that’s your homework because telling someone is not the answer. It only increases the chance of misunderstanding, whereas information/procedures written down, in simple language which anyone can understand, ensures excuses such as “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t understand” cannot be accepted.

If you did have documented systems, were they followed? If not, why not?

As long as change management and training are part of the systems implementation process, there are only two reasons people don’t follow systems:

1. They need more training – Which is easily solved with more training.

2. They make a choice not to follow the approved and documented systems – Which is an immediate performance management conversation.

So, the next time you or someone in your team says they didn’t address something because ‘they don’t like conflict’, ask them the question, “So, how’s that working for you?” and see what the response is because accountability and responsibility are essential for business success.

Remember Michael Gerber’s famous quote:

“People come and go, but the systems remain.”

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