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Are Millennials More Conflict-averse than Other Generations?

Sep 25, 2017
Deb Muller


For the last several years, the talk about Millennials and their rise in the workplace has littered blogs, newspapers, books, college classrooms and more. They are the most talked about generation since the baby boomers. For the first time in decades, three generations of people are coming together in the workplace and the youngest of them has created quite a stir. Among the talk about Millennials is the idea that they are conflict-averse. This article will explore that further.


Millennials are said to be both tech-savvy and tech-smitten. Millennials, and all of us really, now have the ability to communicate without ever actually talking to a person. If live communication is a skill, practice is necessary to hone it. Technology has removed the necessity for live conversations and therefore eliminated the practice needed to ensure we are doing it properly. When people have to face something they do not do often, like navigate conflict situations, it can be uncomfortable and easier to avoid than face.


Millennials also place a high value on harmony. They enjoy workplaces and relationships that are harmonious in nature. Studies are showing that millennials will place higher value on harmony and personal growth over cash benefits from their employer. The way they feel about their employer and the working relationships within matters greatly to them and they want to work in a place that feels good.

Couple a dependence upon technology which has resulted in a lack of in-person communication with a high desire for harmony and you have an entire group of people who many believe, are extremely conflict averse.


With three generations in the workplace, the oldest of which remembers the days before technology, this inability to navigate situations of dissent properly can be very frustrating. Even the gap in dependence upon technology between Generation X and Millennials is so great that those two groups often have a hard time understanding one another. Managing the expectations and conflict styles of all three can be challenging for even the most seasoned of HR professionals.


Workplaces need conflict. They need employees who are comfortable with dissent and can navigate conflict situations appropriately. It is an important component of growth. Leaders can bridge the gap between these three generations by modeling effective forms of communication including conflict. Leaders should be clear that constructive conflict is encouraged and expected as an effective instigator of needed change. The best solution for any behavior that leaders are trying to overcome is to model the desired behavior, praise that behavior in public whenever possible and coach to opposite behavior in private. Any employee who verbally voices concerns or properly navigates conflict situations should be encouraged and applauded consistently. Further, it’s critical these situations be captured in a system, even if they seem small at the time. Many Millennials are quick to leverage social media if they don’t feel heard, so take the proactive step of building a report that shows employees with greater than three cases in the last 60 days (or whatever metric makes sense for your business). The point is to build awareness of potential issues before they escalate.

Leaders can also coach and encourage Millennials to voice their concerns in a way that is comfortable for them. Millennials may be quick to create groups on social sites among peers or use online channels to voice concerns. While this concept may be opposite to the cultural norms that came before it, it is becoming more and more accepted among the newer generations. Leaders should be sensitive to those channels and not discredit their value. Older generations can be encouraged to join these channels and use them as an additional form of communication.

Whether it is true that Millennials are conflict averse or not is still up for debate. Regardless, leaders should always encourage and demonstrate, no matter the medium, proper communication; employees will look to the leaders and emulate what they see. While their natural preference may be conflict avoidance, proper coaching and encouragement can guide them into proper communication and conflict resolution.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.