I was recently talking with a colleague about a mutual acquaintance of ours that got themselves into a tough situation at his job because he is very reluctant to deal with confrontation at work. In a nutshell, after making an internal hire, this person was confronted by the irate current manager of this irate hire, who was demanding all sorts of concessions about extending the hire’s start time while also being personally threatening. Our acquaintance ended up granting just about all of the other manager’s demands on the spot and then spent the rest of the day getting more and more upset at the situation and the fact the irate manager was acting completely inappropriately.
This kind of situation happens fairly often in my experience, especially around leaders that by nature seek to avoid conflict. But conflict is inevitable, and as my acquaintance found out, if you are not equipped with good skills for managing conflict productively, you can end up with an unsavory outcomes on an ongoing basis. In this particular case, instead of entertaining the raving manager, my acquaintance would have been better served to listen calmly and cut the entire conversations short by saying something like, “Well, I certainly see your points and hadn’t thought about how this hire affected you. Let me talk to my team and let you know later today what we can do on our end to address these issues.” In other words, when faced with a person who is unexpectedly extremely confrontational – make an attempt to delay all decisions and interaction until this person has calmed down and/or vacated the room. There is almost nothing to gain from engaging a person who is behaving this way, but if you can hear what the person is saying and move the actual confrontation to a later time when everyone is calmer, the outcome will almost always be better.
I have an addendum or two to this advice – or points of clarification:
Delaying or waiting until a negatively activated or angry person is gone or calmed down before making decisions or trying to engage them productively is not just a strategy for people that are conflict adverse. It also works for people that aren’t afraid of conflict, who will gain nothing by engaging an angry colleague except perhaps create an even bigger conflict.
Secondly my advice to people that seek to avoid conflict is that they need to learn to work through conflict instead of around it. My advice in this specific example is consistent with this sentiment. Giving in to an activated or angry person is working around the conflict. Delaying in the moment to address the issue productively is working through conflict, even if it means avoiding it in the moment.