how to deal with someone who avoids confict

How to Deal with Someone who Avoids Conflict (Actionable Tips)


How do you handle a boss who does not like confrontation, and pushes off anything that may be confrontational? Do you confront him head on?  Should you take it to his boss?  Some other approach?  We’ll explore 3 approaches to an unconfrontational boss, showing you which is most effective. Then, next time you need to know how to deal with someone who avoids conflict, you will be well prepared.

The Situation

As a project manager for a marketing firm, you have a concept for overhauling how your company prices projects by saving quite a lot on media expenses. However, your idea involves purchasing new software. Plus, there would be an initial training period to facilitate the changeover.

Too Agreeable

You have brought up your idea with your boss several times over the past six months. His responses have been “Sounds interesting — we should look into it” and “We might take that up at our monthly meeting.”

Getting a Q3 Stall

Your boss tends toward Q3 friendly and agreeable behavior. He’s not going to argue with you. But at this time, your idea is not going to get a hearing, either.

You are convinced that your idea can help promote the company’s bottom line. How to deal with someone who avoids conflict, and whose calendar you can’t seem to get on to discuss?

Dimensional Model of Behavior

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. Go to the level above your boss to try to get traction for this idea. If that person likes it, you’ll have the support to get it rolling.

 No, please try again.

B. To get beyond his lack of commitment, provide lots of information to show your boss the strength of your idea. Then, ask that he set a deadline for his decision.

 No, please try again.

C. Use your behavior to establish a non-confrontational atmosphere for him to give his honest opinion, and probe his unstated objections so that you can address them.

How to Deal with Someone who Avoids Conflict

Go Above Your Boss to Request Approval for the Idea

This is very short-term thinking. You might succeed in getting support for this project from a higher authority, but most likely you’ll damage your relationship with your boss. Besides, Q4 engagement doesn’t avoid working with the boss. Even if you persuade someone higher up to go along, you may still be seen as being devious in how you get what you want. Choice A is not a good approach for how to deal with someone who avoids conflict.

Provide Info and Request A Decision by a Certain Date

Regarding Choice B, it’s a good idea to educate your boss about any idea you advocate. You can help him make an informed decision. However, knowledge may not be enough. The Q3 agreeable way he puts you off may be masking his concerns about your project, but he’s attempting to avoid disagreement and conflict. He may also be concealing personal worries about making changes, or he may feel uncomfortable about the new procedure. And trying to force a deadline may corner him into spiking up to a Q1 blunt rejection: “Don’t ask me about this again.”

Probe Your Boss' Resistance and Surface Objections

Part of Q4 engagement is adapting your own behavior to the other person — particularly a boss over whom you have no control. As you know, maintaining a cordial atmosphere is important when working with Q3 conflict avoidant behavior. Rather than pushing your frustrations at him, probe for specifics to learn what he really thinks of your proposal and to uncover hidden objections. Choice C is the best approach. One way to provide cover for any unstated critical opinions is to ask your boss to play devil’s advocate. “How do you think the company will respond to my idea?” “What problems might they have with it?” If he offers “their” objections, you can probe for more specifics. You might actually surface any and all of his objections without making him feel uncomfortable. Finally, if you succeed in having a dialogue about the other person’s reservations, follow with closed-end questions around getting a specific commitment. Stress the benefit of the good will that will come his way from the staff if he backs a plan that helps the company to be more successful.

Beyond Employees Who Smooth Over Disagreements

With your newfound expertise in managing interpersonal conflict, head over to our other leadership tips for more learning.

Do you work with a difficult person? Our behavioral questionnaire will provide actionable suggestions on dealing with them effectively.

Learning leadership skills is the first step. The next step is to try out your new skills in a safe environment, get feedback on how you come across, and get coached to improve your leadership effectiveness. Our leadership development resources offer a variety of tools to support you in your journey.

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