One of the most common themes that comes up during the 360 feedback debriefs I do with clients is conflict avoidance. Why do you think that is? The folks I coach are often on a leadership track in their organizations, and my theory is that most of them aren’t just excellent performers. They’re also good at staying out of trouble—which sometimes can mean navigating your way around conflict rather than through it.


But what’s wrong with avoiding conflict? Well, in some cases, nothing. After all, nobody likes a person who seems to be looking for a fight. But if you’re going out of your way trying to avoid conflict at any cost, you’re probably leaving money on the table (figuratively and maybe even literally).


This article from Quartz Media talks about some of the benefits of “fighting” at work and also gives this advice, which I really like: “Before you start working with new colleagues, discuss how you’re going to fight. That advice might sound odd; after all, why would you start a relationship by focusing on the negative?


I’ve done a lot of work with teams as they put together Team Charter documents. The Team Charter is meant to capture the values, norms, and aspirations of the team as it forms, which sounds straight-forward enough. However, one of the parts of the Charter that trips up most teams is where they need to articulate how they intend to deal with conflict. A common initial position might sound like: “Well, we seem to be getting along pretty well, so if conflict comes up, we’ll just deal with each other in a respectful, professional way.” Yeah, well, that’s no good.


First, it’s not a matter of IF conflict will come up—it’s a matter of WHEN. It may not be explicit or dramatic, but as long as the team has human beings in it, you’ll experience conflict. Plan to deal with it.


Second, saying “we’ll deal with each other in a respectful , professional way” does NOT constitute a plan to address conflict. Don’t get me wrong: respect and professionalism are important values to uphold, so include them in your overall approach to conflict. But you should get specific about how you’ll bring conflict up for discussion to the group, and you should think through different types of conflict that could come up and how you might deal with each differently. For example, someone being late to meetings is in a different league than someone saying offensive things to a teammate, and they’ll likely require different approaches.


But it’s not only that you shouldn’t avoid conflict. Dare I say you should go as far as seeking it? Yes, because conflict can push you to think of things in a way that you’re not used to. Play “devil’s advocate” and create intentional, constructive conflict by trying to poke holes in someone’s plan. Or even better, invite others to poke holes in your own plans. If you do it right, you’ll end up with a better product.



So don’t be afraid of conflict. Have a plan to deal with it because it’ll come your way whether you invite it or not. And maybe you can get comfortable enough with conflict that you’ll even invite it in willingly every now and again. Imagine that!



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.