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Conflict anyone?

cartoon of person dressed in blue hiding fearfully under a black desk

Almost all of us will have and do have a boss, or supervisor, as I will call them.  But, what happens when you have a supervisor that doesn’t supervise – they prefer to avoid conflict.  This is a prevalent workforce issue lately.

You have a supervisor that was hired on the pretense that they will supervise yet they want to avoid difficult decisions – which is their fundamental obligation.  As a supervisor you are supposed to set a standard and expect the people you supervise to adhere to it.  If they don’t then you warn them and take action when warnings don’t work. 

Here are some classic signs that you have a bad supervisor:

1)   They think everything is fine when it isn’t

2)   They don’t support you when something goes wrong

3)   They tell you they’re handling the issue when that was never their intent

4)   They sweep the issue under the rug and hope it goes away

5)   They’re too busy watching their back while throwing you under the bus

You want to scream, “WAKE UP!”  But, odds are, if you tried to go above their heads, such as going to Human Resources or even your supervisor’s boss, chances are good that above them is the same flawed type. 

When your supervisor is not a good leader, ramifications can go beyond just whether the decisions at hand are good or bad.  Failure on their part to act on an issue just allows that issue to fester and emotions begin to take a toll on the whole staff. 

Conflict-avoidant supervisors create breeding grounds for passive-aggressive employees and self-appointed tyrants to run amuck with no accountability.  Raise your hand if you have one of those in your organization???

Those types of supervisors create sanctuaries for unprofessional behavior.  Stated in the Austin Business Journal, “When there’s a vacuum of authority, the most aggressive, ruthless and controlling people are drawn in to fill it.”

Some supervisors don’t want to look bad, especially if they acquired their position in a not-so-honest way.  They don’t want the light shining on them; so, they think if they stay quiet no one will be the wiser.  Vivian Scott (author of Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies) observes that some supervisors have a special knack for looking the other way when it comes to bad behavior and conflict on the job.

That’s like putting green paint on a dying plant and asking colleagues to believe it’s thriving.  What’s driving him/her to ignore conflict is the fear that the situation will reflect poorly on him/her and their management skills. 

But, according to Terry Arndt (author of Types of Bosses) the worst thing about having a conflict-avoidant supervisor is that it is the ultimate morale killer.

You should have a job where you feel valued and look forward to coming to work every day.  You have a choice to either continue to function within the confines of your current work environment or plan for a graceful exit.  Leave!!!!!!!

If you choose to stay, work to control your own reactions to the conflict and if you choose to exit, as tempting as it might be to shout from the rooftops how thrilled you are to be leaving this clueless supervisor in the dust, choose your words carefully during the exit process.  You need to move on to greener pastures with your reputation intact. 

Working for a supervisor who avoids conflict is tiring, stressful and truly not worth it.  Keep working and keep looking for other employment opportunities.  They obviously don’t want to rock the boat so it should be a smooth transition to exit off.

Next workforce conflict blog will be on “How to motivate without money.”


Caroline Brigmon

Director, Workforce Programs