This is part one of a five-part series on exploring approaches to conflict. The five approaches are: avoiding, accommodating, collaborating, competing, and compromising. Today, I will explore avoiding and explore each approach in detail in the following posts.
No one is a purist in how he or she approaches conflict. Everyone uses some elements of the five approaches. The approach you use depends on the environment (at work, at home) and the person with whom the conflict is (friend, partner, coworker). We choose our approach.
Avoiding conflict: defined
I started with avoiding because it’s the easiest to articulate and easiest to understand. If you avoid conflict, you do exactly that: you avoid conflict. It is straight forward. On the graph, it shows that you have a low concern for self AND low concern others. We often assume that avoiding conflict shows a high concern for others, but this often not the case.
While I understand this, when we avoid conflict we are actually not concerned for anyone. Why? Avoiding conflict leads to all kinds of problems. When we avoid conflict, the conflict grows and becomes stronger. One party might forget about the conflict, but the other might hold it tightly for a long time. Avoidance solves problems only in limited circumstances.
Do better understand how we approach conflict, we must ask ourselves certain questions. Are you an avoider? In what situations? Why? Has avoiding conflict benefited you or led to further conflict? What did you learn from that?
How to stop avoiding conflict
After we have identified in what situations and with whom we avoid conflict, we can figure out how to stop avoiding. So, how do we stop?
My first piece of advice is to recognize why you avoid conflict in the first place. Is it because you don’t want the other person to feel bad? Do you not want to feel bad? Do you assume that the conflict will go away if you avoid it? Were you socialized to avoid conflict, either through your family, friends, or culture? If we acknowledge why we avoid conflict, we can reframe how we think about avoiding conflict.
After we get to the why, we must find situations where we default to avoiding conflict. There are situations where you don’t avoid conflict. What’s the difference between those situations and the ones where you avoid?
Maybe you avoid in-person conflict, but you are okay with conflict via social media or on a call. Maybe you are more comfortable having a conflict with a complete stranger than a close friend or coworker.
“I avoid conflict in person with strangers because I assume that everyone has malicious intent.”
“I avoid conflict with my romantic partner because it will go away eventually.”
These are great reframing techniques to self-analyze why you avoid conflict. After you’ve done a bit of reframing, it’s time to choose which conflicts to avoid, when, and why.
I’ve stopped avoiding, now what?
Great! As we all know, there are some situations where it is in our best interest to avoid conflict. In a foreign country in the middle of the night at a gas station? Just avoid the conflict. The other time when it makes sense to avoid conflict is during very low leverage conflict with someone who is really important (or a complete stranger) to you.
For example, when your life partner really wants Thai food and you don’t. No reason to start a conflict. Another example is when someone on a busy street bumps into you, and nothing else happens. No reason to start a conflict on the street unnecessarily. Other than scary or low-leverage situations, we should avoid avoiding conflict.
So, after you’ve identified situations where it’s okay to avoid and decided to stop avoiding in other situations, it’s time to practice. Low-stake situations where you know that the outcome will not change your life are situations where it’s okay to practice.
Find a situation where you would normally avoid conflict and try a different strategy. See what happens. How did it make you feel? What went well, what didn’t? What are your next steps? Self-analyze and try again. And again.
Next Week: Accommodating
Next week is part 2 of the five approaches to conflict series, focusing on accommodating.
If you want help navigating your approach to conflict with a coach, please book an appointment with me to get started!