As people generally dislike conflict, it would make sense that leaders use some familiar strategies to avoid conflict. Below are several strategies leaders use to avoid conflict.
Administrative orbiting involves a leader looking like they are doing something when in reality, nothing has happened. For example, a teacher goes to the principal with a problem. The principal acknowledges the problem and communicates to the teacher that they will look into it. When the teacher returns for a status report, the principal stalls by saying, “we are still looking at this” or “these things take time.” The reality is that the administrator isn’t going to do anything and is just presenting an air of action.
This is naturally frustrating, but it is hard to prove that the leader hasn’t done anything. Who wants to call their supervisor a “do nothing liar.” Administrative orbiting is a brilliant strategy for dealing with a problem without dealing with the situation.
Due Process Orbiting
Similar to administrative orbiting is due process orbiting. In this approach, it is not the administrator who is not doing anything. Instead, the petitioner is kept busy with an endless assault of rules and regulations they have to go through to get a problem addressed. This approach aims to exhaust the complaining teacher to get them to give up their conflict or problem.
This approach gives the appearance of transparency and conflict resolution by creating a bureaucratic nightmare. The brilliance involves keeping the complainer busy while doing nothing until they tire. However, if the complainer is persistent enough, it raises the stakes for the administrator to do something when the process is completed. This is because now there is documentation that the teacher cooperated with the process, but their problem was not addressed.
Non-action, as its name implies, means doing nothing to address a problem. The leader assumes that if they ignore a conflict or problem that it will go away. There are times where the cure is worst than the disease. However, ignoring a conflict can also lead to it growing larger and becoming a significant distraction.
Non-action can be helpful if experience shows when to use it. The problem is that it is hard to tell when to use this strategy. There are times when people need to work things out themselves and when the leader needs to intervene.
Character assassination involves acting the person who is complaining. For example, a teacher complains about a serious safety concern on-campus. The administration labels this person a “troublemaker” or someone who is not a “team player.” This ostracizes the teacher from others and can set the stage for eventually turning the school against them.
If this happens, the teacher may be quiet, or they may quit. Either of these works for the administrator, but the conflict was never really resolved. Instead, it was silenced through psychological means. Naturally, all this is happening discretely through rumors and gossip, which is distressing for most people.
Secrecy is related to character assassination while also be a different strategy. The purpose behind secrecy is to complete controversial actions without others knowing. Doing this minimizes resistance and supposedly reduces conflict. However, when people finally find out what is going on, they are generally more upset because of the secretive nature.
Whenever administrators move secretly, they run the risk of losing the trust of their teachers. Any action that must be done secretly is probably a poor decision. If you can’t tell the people under you what you are doing, why should they be open with you? This can lead to a passive-aggressive climate in which everyone is moving around in the darkness.
Conflict avoidance is something we all desire. However, when this is taken to an extreme, it only delays the inevitable. Leaders must develop the courage to address conflict because people will respect this even if they do not like the conflict results. Using the strategies above will cause people to lose faith in the system and respect for the leader.