Making Your Team Work

Practical advice on how you can change your team for the better.

4 Tips to Overcome Your Conflict Avoidance Issue

Embrace productive confrontation


Woman holding up hands shying away from something
Conflict avoidant

Do you like to maintain positive, friendly relations with your teammates? Do you like to think of yourself as a good, nice, person who would never start a fight? You could be just as responsible for the dysfunction on your team as your aggressive, combative colleagues. That’s because it’s a problem when you shy away from open, healthy conflict about the issues.

If you think you’re “taking one for the team” by not rocking the boat, you’re deluding yourself.

Tips for the Conflict Avoidant

If you really struggle to embrace conflict, try these quick tips.

  1. Express your contrary opinion as an “and.” It’s not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right. “I hear that you think we need to leave room in the budget for a customer event AND I’m concerned that we need that money for employee training. What are our options?” More on my "Two Truths" method here. 
  2. Use hypotheticals. If you don’t feel comfortable being assertive, try asking your teammates to imagine a different scenario. “I hear your concern about getting the right sales people to pull off this campaign. If we could get the right people…what could the campaign look like?
  3. Talk about the impact of actions. Rather than disagreeing with the plan, help your teammates think through the consequences by asking good open-ended questions about the impact. “Ok, we’re contemplating launching this product to only our U.S. customers. How is that going to land with our two big customers in Latin America?”
  4. Ask about the underlying issue. If you disagree with a proposed action, start with discussion by trying to understand the rationale. If you understand the reason for the action, you might be able to find another way to accomplish the same goal. “I’m surprised you suggested we release the sales figures to the whole team. What is your goal in doing that?”

Having conflict—presenting a different point of view even when it is uncomfortable—is critical to team effectiveness. Diversity of thinking on a team is the source of innovation and growth. It is also the path to identifying and mitigating risks. If you find yourself shying away from conflict, use one of these techniques to make it a little easier. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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Liane Davey, Ph.D., researches team effectiveness. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done.

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