Millennials Loathe Conflict. Here are Three Ways to Help Them

Millennials are a nice generation.  Super nice. They are positive and optimistic, they want to do the right thing and collaborate to get stuff done. But here’s the problem: They don’t like conflict.

Boomers love conflict (just read today’s headlines). GenX soldiers through conflict because they are the Just Do It generation, and challenging circumstances is an every day part of life. But Millennials are different. They’re exceptional at finding common ground, but hitting conflict head-on has never been on their syllabus. 

Why Conflict is Good

Conflict happens, whether we like it or not. People have different opinions, and the ability to hit tough issues head-on, in a healthy and productive manner will typically allow both parties to arrive at the best conclusion. But this requires courage to express your beliefs and willingness to listen to the other side, all while being clear that a resolution is necessary to the process.

Here’s the good news: Dealing with difficult situations and difficult people is a soft skill and soft skills can be taught.

How to Teach Millennials to Resolve Conflicts

Instead of using the word conflict, let’s use ‘agree to disagree’. It’s the same thing, but this puts “conflict” in a more favorable context. Here are three simple ways leaders can teach Millennials this important professional skill.

Lead by example. In meetings, in hallway conversations and in collaborative projects, make sure you’re leading the way and demonstrating effective communication. Are you running away from tough issues or hitting them head-on? How do you respond in office disagreements, both physically and verbally? Do you, as a manager, accept feedback and new ideas? Do you remain approachable and open? Millennials look up to their managers at professional coaches and will emulate what they see in the workplace.

Give them language. Teaching Millennials to use key words and phrases in the workplace when they disagree with someone can go a long way toward helping them communicate. Teaching them to use phrases such as, “I understand what you’re saying, but…” can make them feel comfortable. Encourage them to ask questions about how someone arrived at their conclusion: “Can you tell me more about your approach to this issue so I understand more?” Teaching them to listen with the goal of understanding goes a long way toward peaceful conflict resolution in the workplace. 

Teach empathy and help them develop EQ. EQ (emotional intelligence) is a person’s ability to recognize their own emotions and relate to others. Have your Millennial employees take time to reflect on their conversations and interactions with others, and have them assess their behaviors and reactions to conflict and adversity. Having a high EQ is one of the most important predictors of career success and satisfaction, and it can help them learn to agree to disagree with confidence.