5 remarks leaders often make to avoid conflict and eventually blow-up in anger

5 Remarks Leaders Often Make to Avoid Conflict and Eventually Blow-Up in Anger

“Feelings are mentionable and manageable” – Mister Fred Rogers

In his television show of 895 episodes that ran from 1968 – 2001, Mr. Rogers taught kids about a variety of life skills such as self-value,  self-control, curiosity, appreciation of diversity, cooperation, patience, and perseverance.

Through meaningful lyrics, scripts, and puppetry, Mr. Rogers presented meaningful experiences that apply not only to children, but also to adults. He was talking about emotional and social intelligence long before all the books we have today on the topic.

How do you deal with conflict, stress, and challenges? 

When faced with conflict, stress, or challenges, what is your pattern? 

Perhaps your focus is on productivity and getting things done. If emotions get in the mix, you believe they only muddy the waters and slow progress. 

Perhaps you react in anger or please others to avoid addressing the real issue at hand?

In my book, How Did My Family Get In My Office?!, leaders share with transparency and vulnerability stories of how their family upbringing affected the way they handle conflict as a leader. Without blame, shame or finger-pointing, each leader shared their personal journey of self-awareness of how their work life is an extension of their early family life.

Today’s blog kicks off a multi-blog series addressing how family upbringing affects your conflict style and business relationships. 

In this first blog, we address five common remarks leaders often make when avoidance is their go-to conflict style. 

  1. “I deal with things by not dealing with things”

Because uncomfortable feelings often arise during conflict, people who avoid addressing sensitive topics tend to negate or minimize the value of feelings. Adversity, grief, and loss are often a major source of stress for avoiders that prevents them from not dealing with uncomfortable emotions.  

  1. “Feelings are a sign of weakness”

People who are avoiders often grew up in families where it wasn’t modeled to them how to identify or manage feelings. If feelings were expressed, it was seen as a sign of weakness.

  1. “I don’t need anyone else”

Many avoiders learned to be self-sufficient because growing up they were frequently left alone. Even when present, their parents or whoever raised them, weren’t emotionally available to encourage the expression of feelings and how to deal with them. 

Avoiders then learn to rely on themselves and their own inner resources to deal with problems. 

  1. “I don’t need to talk about how something made me feel”

Many avoiders genuinely do not know how they feel. They learned to navigate through life by disconnecting from feelings and as such don’t recognize the need to talk about them.

  1. “I need space”

Due to their independent nature learned in upbringing, avoiders often push back when others try to talk with them about feelings. If pushed too much to discuss how something affects them, they push back with anger.

Influence from Family Upbringing

Every family establishes norms about what’s okay to talk about and what isn’t, including feelings. 

Many avoiders grew up in a family where the unspoken rule was to avoid feelings, and if feelings were spoken of the expectation was to deal with it on your own.

At first, this can seem like level-headed behavior – however upon closer inspection, you can see that it’s really avoidance of uncomfortable feelings. As a result, they learned to be self-sufficient. 

When there was upset, conflict, or tension, avoiders find a way of emotionally checking out in a variety of ways such as eating, video games, sports, drugs/alcohol, business, etc. – virtually anything, in order to not feel and avoid connection with others.

Because avoiders often come from families where emotions were not dealt with, they learned to hide their needs. The people who were supposed to be there to comfort and help them manage feelings, either didn’t know themselves, how to deal with feelings, or were physically unavailable.

Changing an avoidance pattern

Dan was referred to me for coaching due to abrasive behavior in the workplace. He was extremely competent at his job, but his behavior had a negative impact on employees and co-workers. 

When we first met, he was angry and didn’t understand why he was being offered coaching by his employer. All he knew was his job was on the line if he didn’t turn around his behavior.

Like a chisel that taps away stone to create a sculpture, little by little, Dan started to allow himself to look within. He began to see the impact of how his inner fears and insecurities were driving his external abrasive behavior. 

Prone to logic and wanting to make sense of things intellectually, it was a process over several months of allowing himself to be vulnerable and gain insight into recognizing the importance of changing the pattern of abrasive behavior.

An inner transformation …

Eventually, an inner transformation evolved when Dan began to understand how when he feels anxious, he responds in an abrupt, critical manner out of fear of appearing incompetent.

Fortunately, avoiders can learn how to deal with uncomfortable emotions and be productive. 

Dan found he was not only more productive, but his employees were also more willing to speak up with new ideas because they saw Dan’s willingness to listen without criticizing them.

Now he knows how to identify when he is feeling afraid about appearing incompetent and makes the conscious effort to gain self-awareness of what he’s feeling threatened about. 

In addition, he’s created a circle of trusted friends, family, and colleagues and asked for help. This was a significant sign of overcoming conflict avoidance.

How does conflict avoidance relate to business relationships?

Brain science proves that in order to function at our best, we need both the logic of the left brain and the emotion of the right brain to see things in context. 

When emotion and logic come together, you promote well-being, and creativity that enhances smart thinking, Ultimately, relationships are strengthened.

How we relate to others in our personal lives eventually spills over into our professional lives. 

By having awareness of your tendency to avoid, you are more likely to optimize your business relationships and results simply by understanding your tendency of how you respond when feeling stressed, insecure, or fearful.

Keep in mind, that it’s not that you address every single feeling and go to the opposite extreme of wearing your feelings on your sleeve, especially in the business world.

The key is self-awareness of when situations get uncomfortable and allowing yourself to be vulnerable with safe people who will help you sort through how to best respond. 

Having the willingness to gain self-awareness about how your upbringing impacts your conflict style is the first step.

Make the Conscious Choice to acknowledge uncomfortable feelings and you will stop avoiding and start dealing with conflict directly.

Want to know more? 

Take my complimentary Workplace Family Factor® Assessment and learn how self-awareness of your family upbringing will equip you to improve how you handle conflict at work. 


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.