Leadership

The opposite of bullies: The damage conflict-averse bosses can cause

Think bullying bosses are stressful? Blogger Toni Bowers say try working for a conflict-averse boss and see the problems pile up.

I get lots of email from TechRepublic members who report to volatile bosses. These kinds of bosses tend to be micromanagers who like everything to go their way and, when it doesn't, they aren't afraid to show it. They cause the work environment to be very stressful.

At the other end of the spectrum is the conflict-averse boss. You would think working for this type of person would be all flowers and sunshine, a general kumbaya type of deal. But you know what? A seriously conflict-adverse boss can wreak as much havoc on a working environment as the hothead.

The latter type of boss tends to put off anything unpleasant. This attitude lets personnel issues fester; it causes team workloads to increase (the boss never wants to say no); and it can generally throw a monkey wrench into productivity.

Let's say you have a co-worker who is not holding up her share of the work. You put up with the situation until it seriously starts to affect your morale. You go to your conflict-averse boss and tell him. He will most likely tell you to speak to the co-worker yourself, ostensively under the "you should learn to solve problems on your own" advice.

However, there are some things you can't manage laterally. Team productivity and workload distribution is one of those. It's his place to talk to the employee, but he won't and things get worse.

The conflict-averse boss will never in a million years explain to someone higher than him on the food chain why his team can't take on another project even if it's because it would be more efficient to let another team to do it. Refusal can be done in a way that isn't considered insubordination. But not our guy. He doesn't want to make waves.

Our conflict-averse guy will also say yes to everyone else. He'll tell you that you can oversee a small project, but then he'll also tell the next person she can do it, leaving you both to step on each others' toes.

I'm not advocating that people become enamored with conflict, but conflict is inevitable, and you need to deal with it when it happens. Don't create it, but deal with it when you necessary.

Get career tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Career newsletter, delivered Tuesday and Thursday, features insight on important IT career topics, including interviewing, career advancement, certifications, and job changes. Automatically sign up today!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

15 comments
ChicagoJCB
ChicagoJCB

One of the most important skills a manager needs to have is the ability to take a deep breath, look someone in the eye, and deliver news that won't necessarily be welcome -- tactfully and gently, perhaps, but clearly. That goes for inevitable less-than-perfect results, addressing issues with a subordinate, and anything else unpleasant. I agree, Toni, that bosses who can't do this are horribly stressful. I hate being the boss of one, too, because it means I need to discuss it with him/her. But people who can't get past that shouldn't be in leadership positions, period.

Sparticus_123
Sparticus_123

I think he feels unqualified so he says yes to everything to try to compensate. It really is harder to work for this type of boss than the bully. I've done both.

wmwinkle
wmwinkle

Some bosses lets workers wrap them around their fingers. Being a nice guy isn't always the best route for a manager. Some employees come in late come back from lunch late. Disappear during the day. These managers can't see the harm it's causing the good workers who come in on time do their job and don't "fudge" their time. I was a manager and I learned the steps necessary to disipline an employee and used them. Sometimes the employee straightens up some times you have to take the long hard road and get rid of them. The difficulties in getting rid of them are monumental but it is your duty as a manager to do it for the sake of your other employees.

amccrack2001
amccrack2001

Many of these cases actually involve a control freak boss who actually uses the bully (a lead or other manager) as the mouthpiece. This type of boss acts like a calm, patient, and tolerant person. What is actually taking place is unprofessional verbal exchanges unknown to you and/or other team members undermining one or more of the boss' subordinates. It is very imperative to recognize this. If your productivity becomes impaired by this, let your boss know that you feel it is counter-productive to work in a vacuum, and that you prefer to be in the loop working as a team. At the same time, realize that there may be no way to completely resovle the problem. Especially if the boss is well respected by the upper management. Instead of letting this eat away at you, keep it professional, and begin to execute your job search strategy.

healthcare_it_professional
healthcare_it_professional

Anyone who is conflict-averse has no business in any management role. You shouldn't get chosen for this type of job unless you are prepared to do the hard work, which includes, as previously stated, ensuring the good of the entire team, not just 1 0r 2 favorites. In my situation, she has not only favorites whom she, well, favors!, but also cannot handle confronting anyone unless she does it to the whole group & ends up threatening to fire everyone! So passive-agressive it is classic. At least with volatile bosses, you know where you stand because they tell you, tho not in a good way. With passive-aggressive bosses, their reaction is completely unpredictable & often contradicts a previous decison or order. I personally prefer to know where I stand, stressful as that is. Both situations are stressful, but I like knowing how the wind blows.

sdbett
sdbett

CORRECT! and well said. I just wish I had managers with that kind of strength. "Character" is what it takes to keep control.

gbohrn
gbohrn

I find that conflict averse bosses cause serious problem by not actually doing their job, which is managing the folks (not just the projects). I've been a manager (currently work as a consultant) and working for bosses or with other managers who do not manage their folks is a colossal pain. Personally, I'm less concerned about time watching (as a previous poster mentioned) as I am about throughput and team interaction. Passive bosses cause more problems, by allowing problems to escalate out of control because they don't want to deal with the conflict at hand. Conflict resolutions is one of the major jobs of a manager, along with a lot of other duties. If your not up to the task, quit, please.

MET1
MET1

What are some of the techniques that we can use to get this type of manager moving in the right direction? In the past I've tried very hard and not been successful - trying to spend more time with them doesn't work (and can drive you nuts!), trying to tell them in a 3rd person way how to perform ('what people usually do is...') sometimes has helped but is a lot of work and can make the manager disassociate from you if what you suggested is successful as he doesn't want to acknowledge that you knew more/better and then the basic approach that elicits the classic no-action response of 'so-and-so is/is not doing...'. If you try to go over their heads you'll see them get vindictive. Please tell me what works that's quick, easy and reliably gets decent results!

scotth
scotth

The behavior you describe may create conflict, but it isn't always because the boss is avoiding conflict. Often the boss is simply playing favorites and/or politics.

Menace65
Menace65

I would LOVE to figure out how to slack off like this one co-worker I have! But I guess I just can't lower myself (literally) to kiss the asses of all the managers in the company. This guy thinks he's so slick that he leaves grease stains. Every day, at the same appointed hour, he announces that he's going to one of our other offices, and does anyone need anything. Yet, when we try to contact him in this other office, he's mysteriously just left and is on his way home... Unfortunately, when brought to the attention of my boss by myself and my other co-workers, we get reamed. Supposedly we're now creating policies that if not followed by US (meaning, if WE continue letting him get away with murder) it will be reflected on OUR performance reviews... That's just messed up.

skrog
skrog

I feel your pain! I have double situation like that, a group of 4 who doesn't want to work with others or divulge helpful info (power kick I guess) and then one I have to work even closer with that you struggle to get to take extra steps with his own job responsibilities much less lend a hand to anyone else while his day is spent surfing the web and complaining when someone calls with an issue that falls directly in his job responsibilities and leaving me to pick up where he leaves off along with my more than full load. Yet, if I bring it up to either of my two bosses, I'm the one making waves and being disruptive to moral and productivity and not resolving the conflict peacfully on my own. I was even asked once by one of the bosses what I did to cause them to be that way. As if I created the problem. If not for this I would love my job. Only thing keeping me here is I've got 15+ years here, the security the job has and the poor job market. So how do you wake them up to deal with the issue?

charles.wynne
charles.wynne

It is well known in any industry as 'the willing horse syndrome'. It is easier to go along the path of least resistance, until you realise you are abusing one of your greatest assests.

mchelvan
mchelvan

I have the same problem although I don't work in IT. I too have days when I'm proud of my work ethic and then again I have days when I see others playing on Facebook or paying bills etc and just want to scream. Or quit. Boss seems oblivious.

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

...to hear that I am not alone. I have a full docket all the time while I have co-workers who are not pulling their weight. Yet new projects or "emergencies" always seem to come to me. My work ethic that I have demonstrated since starting in I.T. has become my own worst enemy. I am the guy people talk to if they want something done, and the expectation is that it will all get done quickly and efficiently. I try to be proud of that and not bitter, but I have days where that is very difficult.

Editor's Picks