Want to know how to move past conflict avoidance?

A sign with desire pointing right and avoid pointing left with blue sky and clouds in the background

How many times might you see something, want to say something, don’t and move on to avoid potential conflict. Let’s dig a litter deeper and look at conflict, conflict resolution at work, and conflict analysis and resolution in terms of conflict avoidance. With small things this may be fine. You have to decide when and where to act. However, there are times when there may be conflict in the work place and simply avoiding the problem can make the situation worse. It is not going to correct itself on its own. So, the question is how can you move beyond interpersonal conflict avoidance and work constructively to address a conflict at work that really needs to be addressed? This article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation is summarized below and contains additional commentary for your consideration.


Ghosting in our society


Ghosting is a relatively new term. What does it mean? In general, it means when someone cuts off communication without any explanation. For example, simply quitting a job or walking away from a relationship without any explanation.

Keep in mind that if someone ghosts you it is all about them rather than you. It is about their discomfort.

Yes, it can still hurt feeling rejected, but it is the decision of the other party. Rather than ghosting it is suggested to actually act and let the other party know how you feel and why. Dr. Walsh states in the ghosting article, “Our always-on culture has eroded a lot of empathy which is why we find ourselves stepping on each other’s feelings…the power of the internet and its ease of upsetting our lives is only poised to grow.”


Why do we avoid conflict?


If you are authentic and really share your feelings that in and of itself may cause conflict. How you share those feelings is critical to how they may be received. Knowing this there are real reasons why you may want to avoid conflict. Previous experiences only reinforce these perceptions with both good and bad. We all want to avoid things that make you feel negative.

Some people are simply conflict avoidance in nature.

This may be due to others having been hypercritical of them or dismissive of their feelings. Healthline offers some ideas to help with these situations. As we consider global issues that are prevalent in the news such as global warming, world hunger, war, devastation, and similar topics social anxiety in young people is a fast-growing phenomenon. This also is a contributor to avoiding conflict.


The harmful impacts of conflict avoidance


When conflict is avoided, it grows like a cancer within us. If you harm someone else or if they harm you at work this negative impact on feelings grows deep. The parties can grow even further apart, interact less, and have deteriorating relationships.

Studies have shown than conflict avoidance impacts mental health, resilience, and productivity at work.

By comparison “those who intentionally resolved daily conflicts reported their stress diminished”  and they experienced fewer negative emotions according to this study of over 2,000 participants.


Some ideas on how to engage interpersonal conflict resolution more often


Actually, addressing issues before they can fester can give you a sense of calm, confidence, and competency. This can help you be more compassionate towards yourself and others. So, how can you do this?

Take a hint from John Clear’s book on Atomic Habits and start small.

You can feel overwhelmed with this issue. By reaching out to others on small things and helping prepare the other person appropriately can make a big difference. Bounce your ideas off of a close friend or mentor at work. For example, consider something like this.

“I have something I want to speak with you about that I don’t think you want to hear, but I think you need to know about this.”

This can be with your boss, a peer, or a subordinate. The other person knows that what is coming is not going to be pleasant. Think about this ahead of time. Practice it with someone. Identify something really small so that the negative impact is minor. This will help with setting the stage for a bigger issue in the future.

Make an actual plan.

Consider documenting it before the session to help you stay focused on being hard on the problem and remaining gentle on the person. Consider how they may react from the best that could happen to the worst case scenario.

If necessary, consider reaching out to a mediator ahead of time to help you work through this process with someone that will remain impartial to you and the other party.

Be focused on being honest and proceeding with integrity.

Do not exaggerate or use phrases like always or never.

 Make sure your statements are clearly articulated on facts.

Consider sharing your feelings with “I” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, “I feel very uncomfortable when I receive a text that states….” Keep in mind that a lot of miscommunication takes place related to only the words. Studies have found that the attitude in communication is received 7% by the words, 38% by the tone and 55% by the facial expression and body language. This means that texts can clearly miss the mark. Often misunderstandings need to be addressed quickly in texts by making a phone call to discuss the issue or by even better having a zoom online discussion, or even better an in person discussion for example while taking a break and going for coffee or lunch if that is possible.

If you screwed up be responsible and apologize. In the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch he offers that a proper apology has three parts. Using his commentary and the wisdom of my own mother I summarized these as:

I am sorry for what I did

I won’t do it again and I am sorry that I hurt you

What can I do to make this right?

I hope these ideas can help you and others that want to move past conflict avoidance and want to be able to constructively work better with others by being able to bring up issues appropriately as soon as possible to avoid them becoming something bigger.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]