Interpersonal EDGE: Fear of Conflict Can Create Big Messes
Thursday, April 21, 2011

 By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Media Services
Q: In a recent column, you talked about why avoiding conflict at all costs is expensive. We'd all like lions to lie down with lambs but that occurs in Eden, not the workplace. I've been hired to replace a Human Resources Director who never dealt with conflict. How do I shape up the organization?
A: People who can handle the anxiety of setting limits find people who avoid the problem really annoying, particularly when they leave big messes. You need to anticipate several factors to be effective in your new position.
1. The Human Resources Director wasn't alone in her fear of conflict. When a key player in a system is refusing to address problems, she has lots of company who support her anxiety.
2. Start your changes slowly. Don't try to be the hero. Most heroes have short life spans. Point out to your boss that certain employees tend to be late, insolent to clients or insubordinate and describe the consequences of these actions to the organization. Build a group that sees the problem and supports your changes.
3. Force other people in the organization to choose the status quo (and suffer the tradeoffs) or develop some backbone. If you do what needs to be done without any internal network you'll be crucified even if you're getting results.
4. Never publicly disparage the last Human Resources Director. Find positive ways to describe her behavior - something like, "Well, the last Human Resources Director was a very nice person," or "The last director was more patience." Focus on the future, not the past.
5. Never underestimate the riptide power of anxiety at work. Lions are allowed to roam freely as predators when the lambs are scared and looking away from the problem. Looking the other direction, of course, is the best way to get eaten.
6. You are a courageous person to tackle the dead bodies in your organization. Just make sure you add respect and understanding of the enormous power of fear to your professional repertoire. Otherwise, you could face your own "Night of the Zombies" remake as the bodies are unearthed and come after you.
The last word(s)
Q: Is there a diplomatic way to shut up people who go on and on and on?
A: Yes. When they pause to breathe, repeat what they've said, give a reason to exit and dash. Most people who keep talking never feel heard, so they substitute volume for connection.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies. 
This column was printed in the April 24, 2011 - May 7, 2011 edition.

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