Fear conflict? Stop avoiding confrontation and conflict.


Fear conflict? Stop avoiding confrontation and conflict.

Do you fear conflict? You might ask yourself, Why do I avoid conflict? Why do men avoid confrontation? Why do women avoid confrontation?
Be a Self-Leader in Conflict Resolution
Mediate2go: Fear conflict? Stop avoiding confrontation and conflict.

Conflict Avoidance Introduction

Conflict avoidance is common in many cultures. Some would argue that some cultures are particularly conflict avoidant – where people would prefer not to address conflict directly. At the same time, other cultures might be known for their direct approaches to confrontation – the opposite of conflict avoidance. Of course, such generalizations might not be very productive given that we are speaking about relationships and individuals – both of which can change and develop from moment-to-moment and over long periods of time.

This blog is to tell you about conflict avoidance, and what you should consider if you choose to use this conflict management style. We have written this blog for anyone, and have included a section at the end for mediators and conflict coaches.

You might ask how to avoid conflicts in a relationship.

The truth is, conflict avoidance is just one style of conflict management, and it may be both useful and detrimental, depending on the circumstances and the needs of those in a given situation. Even if you believe that you normally address conflict effectively, part of doing so may include avoiding conflict from time-to-time. The key is to be aware of what you truly need within the situation, and then be conscious in making the decision to avoid, or not to avoid (to confront) conflict. This is a very important aspect of being a self-leader in conflict and resolving conflict effectively.

Definition of conflict avoidance.

What does avoidance mean?

Conflict avoidance means that individuals do not engage in confrontation. Avoiding confrontation at work or in any relationship means that one does not engage in any type of conflictual interaction or confrontation with others. Conflict avoidance in relationships takes place when an individual or individuals experience some type of difference or a perception of difference, and they do not directly engage others in relation to this issue.

How does one typically approach-avoidance conflict?  How to avoid confrontation?

Generally speaking, some ways of avoiding confrontation include “methods [such as] changing the subject, putting off a discussion until later, or simply not bringing up the subject of contention”.[1] One common sign of avoidance is venting, when someone complains about a situation, but if asked, they have not directly addressed the issue, or gossip, such as when someone talks to others about someone’s behaviour without addressing their concerns head-on.

As you will read in the this conflict resolution blog, if you want to avoid confrontation, you need to be sure that it is the right strategy for you, based on your needs and the context.

Why does avoidance in relationships matter?

Conflict avoidance is often a cause of conflict. This means that if you avoid conflict in relationships, you also prevent yourself from coming to a resolution of the dispute. Think about it, if you experience either a perceived or actual difference in beliefs, opinions, values, or simply put – needs – from someone else, a discussion about the issues would be the most efficient way resolve the conflict, and deciding how to move on. 

Why do I avoid conflict?

There are a variety of reasons that someone might avoid conflict. A lot of these things should be discussed with a therapist, given that they might relate to emotions and childhood experiences. If you are curious to understand why you avoid conflict, think about the worst thing that could happen if you actually faced the conflict. Is your deep down fear about being rejected? Are you worried that a relationship will end, and you will be alone? If one of these deep down fears is driving your avoidance of conflict, you might want to talk to a therapist to get the support you need.

When is conflict avoidance good?

Safety concerns? – better to avoid conflict

If you are worried about your personal safety, conflict avoidance might be the best strategy and conflict style. For example, if you are on the street and someone approaches you, if you do not feel comfortable, the best strategy might be to walk away. You might not want to engage in any type of conversation or debate with this individual, even if they have said something that you completely disagree with. Using insults might be used to trigger your frustration, so that you will engage with them in conversation or debate. If your safety is not at risk, then you might choose to engage in conversation. Note that we are not talking about destructive relationships here.

Temporary delay – better to avoid conflict

Avoidance can also give individuals time to calm down so that they can avoid getting caught up in a destructive conflict escalation cycle. For example, if you and your partner are having a bad fight, it might be better to temporarily suspend the discussion and avoid discussing it further until both of you have had time to calm down. This is not to say that you should simply walk away and ignore what they have said. Rather, you should ask to delay the conversation until both of you are more able to hear one another. To know how to fix a relationship, check this out here.

No gain? – better to avoid conflict

If you do not foresee any type of benefit resulting from having a discussion,  avoidance might be the best conflict management style. For example, if you’re having a major conflict with your manager or employee, yet you will only work with the organization for one or two more days, it might not be worthwhile to have any type of confrontation with the other person that risks igniting confrontation. Although there are many benefits to resolving conflict, even if you decide to leave an organization, such as the protection one’s reputation or that of the organization, you might prefer to avoid conflict in the meantime. If you do you want to address issues, you might ask for the help of a conflict coach or mediator.

When is conflict avoidance bad?

As this blog explains, conflict avoidance is not always bad per se. Rather, conflict avoidance might facilitate or worsen the conflict escalation cycle - which is generally speaking bad for everyone involved. If your first instinct is to avoid conflict, look at the above cases of when conflict avoidance is a good thing. If your situation does not fit into those examples [you have safety concerns, it would be better to wait to address the issue at another time, or you foresee no gain in addressing the issue], you might be relying on conflict avoidance as a strategy, even though it does not address your concerns. Only use conflict avoidance if you believe the benefits outweigh the losses. Also think about how alternative dispute resolution could help.

Examples of Conflict Avoidance at Work:

Manager’s conflict avoidance

If you are a manager, and your employees are in conflict, choosing to avoid the conflict is a common form of conflict avoidance which can have unexpected negative outcomes. As a mediator, we often see managers who observe conflict between their employees, and choose to let their employees duel it out. A manager might even tell them to ‘grow up’ and ‘figure it out on your own’. This is an ineffective approach based on the escalatory nature of conflict. One of the dynamics of conflict is that it becomes more destructive overtime - partly because individuals no longer see things as clearly as they would under normal circumstances. Thus, a manager telling his or her employees to simply fix the issue, completely ignores the inherent dynamics of conflict escalation. Instead, managers should work with both parties to help each of them address and resolve the conflict. Or better, the manager should bring in a neutral third-party (mediator) to help the parties have a discussion and/or a conflict coach to work with the manager, or the individuals directly dealing with conflict to gain knowledge and skills in conflict management. Managers should also be proactive in their approach to conflict resolution in their organization. They should make conflict resolution a strategic priority to garner the benefits of ADR.

Employee’s conflict avoidance

If you are an employee, a negative type of conflict avoidance in the workplace might be any type of conflict with a colleague or manager that cannot seem to be resolved, yet one or both parties cannot move on and let things go. For example, if one of your colleagues makes statements that are offensive and repetitive, yet you say nothing, your feelings of frustration and anger might build up and conflict is likely to escalate. Instead of making your expectations clear for the other individual and addressing issues head-on, you may assume that the other person had the worst of intentions, and simply avoid addressing your concerns. This common example of employee conflict can also lead to conflict escalation, and may have damaging effects on people, the team and the organization, similar to gossip.

Examples of conflict avoidance at home

Conflict avoidance with parents or partners

A common example of conflict avoidance at home includes when a spouse decides not to address something that is bothering them with their significant other. Maybe they have already brought forward this concern and nothing has changed, so they would prefer not to ‘nag’ their partner about it – giving up on achieving this need or desire. Maybe they would prefer not to bring up the conflict temporarily, and wait for a more appropriate time – such as when guests have left or their partner is more willing to listen and hear the message rather than simply react emotionally. If you want to know when it is worthwhile to avoid or not avoid a conflict, read this blog – what to talk about.

Conflict avoidance at home with children

Conflict avoidance at home may also include conflict with children. Children may notice that it is not a good time to bring up concerns with a parent when they are having had a bad day - leading them to avoid the conflict temporarily. Parents may decide that it is not worthwhile to confront a child on a particular issue, and would rather focus on other concerns. These are some forms of conflict avoidance at home.

Conflict resolution strategies - Conflict avoidance

Responding to conflict avoidance

If you would like to address a conflict in your life, yet the other person seems to be avoiding you, you might try a few different techniques:
  1. Tell the person that you would like to have a discussion with them to resolve your issues. Reassure them that you are open to hearing what they have to say.
  2. Tell them what you imagine they went through as a result of the situation. This demonstration of empathy might help them see that you are making an effort to connect with them and that you are trying to meet them halfway.
  3.  Emphasize the benefits of resolving your conflict collaboratively. Say your relationship has become very destructive, even if you are no longer able to be friends, maybe you could still find someway to peacefully coexist.
  4. Remember that you cannot change anyone. Once you have tried to address the conflict, you will need to learn how to move on and let it go. This can be the hardest part of responding to conflict avoidance. Be sure to learn about personal boundaries and resolving conflict with boundaries if you are uncomfortable.

Conflict avoidance for professionals (Mediators, Conflict Coaches, Facilitators, Lawyers)

Responding to conflict avoidance as a mediator or conflict coach

The section is to help you as a conflict management professional address conflict avoidance with your clients directly or indirectly if they are dealing with a conflict avoider. For example, you might have a client who is avoiding conflict with their spouse, or a client who wants to address conflict with and avoiding spouse. You might even see conflict avoidance demonstrated within a mediation process. Observing conflict avoidance can present a difficulty yet opportunity for a practitioner to intervene.

With an avoiding client

As a mediator or conflict coach, if your client is avoiding conflict to their own detriment, you have a few options. First, you need to keep in mind the principles in conflict coaching and mediation.  In this case, you want to ensure that you are perceived as, and are impartial in how you provide services. Ask about the impact of avoidance on them and other people in the situation. It is likely that there are many negative impacts that result from in overuse of the avoidance conflict management style. Through leading the client to see these consequences through skillful questions, the client is less likely to get defensive and might leave your office with some valuable feedback on how to resolve conflict. Acting with impartiality relates to ensuring that the process is voluntary and that parties must have self-determination. As a mediator, it’s easy to get in the habit of trying to help solve client’s issues for them. This goes against the principles of impartiality, in addition to voluntariness and self-determination. Parties should not be provided with advice, as this might just be a quick fix. Mediators and conflict coaches must be patient with clients who avoid conflict, and give them the time they need to reach their own determinations of their issues and their self-resolution. They must become self-leaders in conflict resolution.

Lawyers helping clients with conflict avoidance

Generally speaking, if clients have contacted lawyers, they are addressing issues and confronting conflict. In fact, their conflict management style might have become competitive. Lawyers are there to represent their clients. Within the mediation context, lawyers can provide advice to clients on the impacts of conflict avoidance, and the benefits of addressing issues.

An activity to help a client through conflict avoidance

One of the easiest ways to help avoiding clients is to offer the TKI assessment so that they may determine their own conflict management style. Once that is done, the client might be more aware of their conflict management style. If you do not do this assessment, discuss the various conflict management styles in relation to a specific situation they have faced. Even a discussion might lead to the development of many insights.

With an assertive and non-avoiding client

If your client is more comfortable with conflict, yet they are dealing with someone who is avoiding conflict, as a professional, you will be providing indirect advice to help them address this issue.  Feel free to share this conflict resolution blog with the client so that they better understand some of their options. At the same time, you might need to work with the client to establish boundaries and how to move on from the situation, especially if the person they are dealing with refuses to have a discussion.

With avoiding client(s) in the mediation room:

If one or both of your clients are avoiding conflict within the context of the mediation process, there are a few steps that you can take to address this issue.
  1. First, consider integrating something about the benefits of conflicts within your opening statement and throughout the mediation process.
  2. Second, remind clients that conflict can be very healthy, cathartic and can lead to many positive outcomes. In fact, conflict can actually be good for business.
  3. Third, if the client makes a strong yet respectful statement, ask the other party to paraphrase what they heard. Next, ask for a response from the other party on how they felt in this situation. In other words, do not encourage conflict avoidance in the mediation room. Instead, provide an example of how to face conflict collaboratively. With time, you can set the mood in mediation to help the parties address their issues without avoiding them.  The mediator in this case acts as a model through their practice, showing parties that it is okay to have conflict.
Thanks for reading our blog on conflict avoidance. Be sure to contact a conflict resolution professional in your local area for help dealing with conflict avoidance.
 
Mediate2go: Fear conflict? Stop avoiding confrontation and conflict.


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