SelfWare-Avoiding Conflict and IOB

Duane’s Story: Avoiding Conflict and Impact on Business

 Avoiding Conflict

Let’s talk about Duane, director of marketing at a midsize clothing company in Florida. 30 people report directly to him. He loves it. It’s a fast-paced, dynamic, highly social environment. Duane has close friends working for him and he enjoys spending time with his coworkers. Duane knows the business well because he worked up through the ranks.

There’s just one problem. Duane can’t handle conflict. He’s never fired a single person. He totally shuts down when he’s outside his ‘comfort zone.’ He knows it isn’t great for business, but sometimes he makes decisions based on avoiding confrontation at any cost.

Why is it so hard for someone like Duane to deal with conflict? Even though he knows it’s a problem behavior, why does he continue to do it? What’s going on inside Duane’s brain when he finds himself outside his comfort zone facing conflict?


Duane avoids conflict at any cost. This behavior, like many problem behaviors, is driven by fear. To put it in simple neuroscience terms, Duane fears confrontation so he just runs away. Maybe you’ve heard of the classic ‘fight-or-flight’ response. It’s one of the most basic, primitive human emotions and responses.  The limbic system – a primitive area of the brain – controls the fight-or-flight response. We’re not able to think logically – with more advanced areas of the brain – when this happens. It’s an instinctual response rooted in fear and danger.

The more this continues, the more fear continues to fester. Instead of just fearing a specific confrontation, Duane starts fearing all conflict. His ability to handle it gets worse and worse. You’ve probably seen people like this. It’s really a basic emotion causing a basic response. Fear the conflict, so avoid the confrontation.

How does this problem manifest itself in the workplace? What’s the impact on business when Duane fears telling an employee that their work is insufficient?

The Fear Response and Impact on Business

Duane gets paid to do the heavy lifting – problem solving, creative ideas, finding solutions. And he’s usually good at it. But when he gets stuck in this ‘fear rbook-impactesponse’ loop, this cycle of fearing confrontation, his work suffers drastically.

What happens when Duane fears telling an employee that their work is insufficient? He doesn’t want to “be the bad guy” so he avoids it. But when he sees this employee in the hall his brain starts to feel that fear. His brain knows it must either address the conflict – or avoid it. So now he relies on distractions to avoid the conflict. He goes to get coffee, make small talk, use the bathroom. If he does talk to his employee he wastes time discussing irrelevant business. The challenge to avoid conflict grows and spreads throughout the office.

Duane has trained his brain to desperately avoid conflict. His brain spends all its energy worrying about it. He becomes over stressed and can’t perform at a high level. The net effect is an extremely inefficient work environment. Other tasks get overlooked and delayed. Progress stops. The fear response has a crippling impact on business.



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