Conflict is not a dirty word. And yet, many of us still try and avoid it in the workplace. We’ll be coming back to this topic again and again this year, because guess what? We’re advocates of conflict – but the healthy kind. Without it we don’t see change, and we can all learn how to manage it better to channel it into something constructive. It doesn’t come easy to most of us but after all, we did call it HardTalk for a reason! But what happens when someone else’s avoidance of conflict is causing a roadblock at work?

“The fight-or-flight instinct: It’s an ancient biological survival mechanism that is automatically triggered by a perceived threat.

Steve Cohen coined the term “flighters” to describe people who view conflict as a threat to their survival and whose instinctive reaction is to run away. He is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., and author of Mess Management: Lessons from a Corporate Hitman (Author House, 2010). He has devoted much of his career to mediating conflicts between fighters (who thrive on conflict) and flighters (who fear and eschew it.)

The hallmark of flighters, he says, is that, when conflicts arise, their first impulse is to acquiesce. Flighters may hide behind closed office doors, camp out in front of their computer screens or bury themselves in busywork to avoid conflict. Others clam up. These stone-faced flighters have mastered the art of the silent treatment.

Other flighters are complainers. They share their grievances openly with everyone—that is, everyone except the other party to the conflict.

Extroverts can be flighters, too. Eager for approval and fearful of angering or disappointing others, they refuse to stand up for themselves and may be too easily cowed.

According to Stuart Hearn, CEO of Clear Review, a London-based continuous performance management firm, there are three primary ways that conflict avoidance manifests itself in the workplace:

  • Ignoring the issue by denying it exists.
  • Sidestepping the issue by changing the subject.
  • Completely withdrawing from the situation.

Hearn sees conflict avoidance as a performance management issue that can make bad situations worse…”

You can read the full article by SHRM author Arlene S Hirsch here:

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society, representing 300,000 members in more than 165 countries. For nearly seven decades, the Society has been the leading provider of resources serving the needs of HR professionals and advancing the practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. The HardTalk Handbook is approved for SHRM Recertification Credit and readers will receive 3 PDCs – it’s available in the SHRMStore here.


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