Insights from Dana
Addressing the Elephant in the Office

Why do savvy leaders avoid tough conversations?

As a high-achiever in the business world, you’ve mastered the art of turning obstacles into opportunities. This capacity to see through roadblocks to what else is possible is a not-so-secret superpower amongst the bold and brilliant. 

Yet, a surprising number of successful business owners and executives still struggle with managing conflict. 

Maybe it’s a team member who consistently fails to deliver. Or a lack of role clarity since your team expanded. Instead of addressing it directly, you opt for temporary solutions or outright avoidance. 

You “trust” your people to work it out amongst themselves. 

You lean heavily on your seasoned team members.

You’re not alone. Of more than 600 leaders polled in a recent study*, 57% questioned their capacity to navigate conflict. Every one of them was a business owner, founder, president, C-Suite executive, VP, or director of a company that makes 10M to 100M a year.

Conflict avoidance is a leadership issue across industries and at the highest levels.

Which begs the question: How can you break the pattern?


Decoding Workplace Dynamics

Workplace conflict doesn’t always look like arguments or jockeying for power.

You might be struggling to deal with passive-aggressive behavior or avoidance between team members who need to collaborate.

The tendency to avoid conflict might manifest as a refusal to get “sidetracked.” 

Or even as if you’re giving your team the autonomy to resolve their own issues. 

In reality, it’s a bottleneck that hamstrings productivity, efficiency, and innovation.

Delaying tough decisions or uncomfortable conversations results in missed opportunities to develop and elevate not just your team, but your whole company. Because you miss out on diverse perspectives and creative solutions that could actually get everyone on the same page and working together.

Ignoring conflicts can erode trust and communication within teams, leading to resentment and disengagement. 

Still, the price is more than high employee turnover, project delays, and what it costs to hire and train new team members. The weight of those unresolved conflicts takes a toll on mental and emotional well-being for you and your team, impacting productivity, focus, and even personal health.

So what can you do about it?

The Subtle Art of Avoidance

To overcome conflict avoidance, it’s essential to recognize the subtle ways it plays out in your business. Because before you can take direct action to shift any habit or behavior, you have to be able to identify it.

As a leader, avoiding conflict might look like:

  • Delaying Difficult Conversations. But procrastinating on addressing performance or team issues only feeds those underlying tensions.
  • Avoiding Confrontation. But sidestepping uncomfortable conversations or providing superficial feedback undermines trust and inhibits growth.
  • Delegating Responsibility. But passing the buck on conflict resolution tasks diminishes leadership credibility and erodes team cohesion.
  • Prioritizing Harmony Over Progress. But favoring short-term harmony over long-term growth compromises our ability to drive meaningful change.
  • Minimizing Issues. But downplaying the significance of conflicts to avoid discomfort hinders our capacity for authentic communication and problem-solving.


Setting the Stage for Resolution

Contrary to popular belief, or what your comfort zone might say, conflict isn’t inherently negative. When approached constructively, conflict can actually foster trust, team buy in, and collective success. 

But, it starts with having those tough conversations. 

You don’t have to lead with a ready-made solution. In fact, the less preconceived notions you bring to the table, the better. 


⇒ Start by showing up and identifying the issue. Separating the people from the problem is an essential step to solving it. 

⇒ Set clear expectations that everyone is to be genuinely respected, and respectful, and everyone involved will be heard. 

⇒ Actively listen to what your people have to say–without interjecting to share your opinion or clarify your understanding. Ask your questions after and focus on actively listening to what your people are telling you is important to them.

Of course, this should all go without saying. But, setting these standards out loud can help start de-escalating tensions and create some space around difficult conversations.


The Business Benefits of Constructive Conflict

It’s time to reframe our perception of conflict and leverage it as a powerful tool for progress. 

5 Ways Embracing Conflict Will Benefit Your Business

1. Cultivate Trust.

Addressing conflicts openly and transparently builds trust and strengthens relationships.

2. Enhance Resilience. 

Embracing conflict as natural instead of problematic cultivates resilience and adaptability within your team.

3. Foster a Growth Mindset.

Engaging with setbacks as opportunities for learning and development rather than obstacles to success feeds curiosity instead of conflict.

4. Seize Opportunities.

Confronting challenges head-on enables us to identify opportunities for improvement and capitalize on moments of disruption.

5. Catalyze Innovation.

Reframing conflict as a catalyst invites diverse perspectives, opportunities for improvement, and creative solutions that propel your business forward.

Because when you manage conflict with intention, integrity, and transparency, you organically build a culture of collaboration and innovation. 

You set yourself and your company apart. 

Conflict is inevitable. So embrace the problem solving, team building, culture creating, leadership development opportunity.

Be the savvy leader who has the hard conversations. 

Start here: By making sure your team knows you have their backs.

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