You may have noted a theme in my blogs regarding my attitude to conflict. I think much of what we do that doesn’t work stems from conflict avoidance and our inability to be with conflict. I find that acceptance of conflict is more likely to facilitate a constructive shift in conflict dynamics which will then lead to some kind of resolution.
The ways that we flee and avoid conflict rather than accept it and engage it are many. Some are subtle and some not so subtle. Being able to recognize that you are avoiding conflict and how you are doing so will assist you to respond more effectively to the conflict. Relying on Bernie Mayer‘s book Staying with Conflict as the source of the four types of conflict avoidance and four corresponding helpful questions, I have added examples to illustrate each type of conflict avoidance.
Whether you are part of the conflict or you are assisting others with their conflict, these questions serve to hone in on the differences that must be addressed in order to move a conflict towards resolution.
We avoid conflict by:
1. Premature problem solving
Rather than look more deeply at what the conflict is about, we come up with premature solutions to avoid it.
“We’re always arguing about grade evaluation. If too many students are failing, all we have to do is grade more lightly and pass more of them.”
Question the comprehensiveness of the suggested solution: ‘What is the problem and how well does that suggestion address it?’
Unexpectedly perhaps, another way we avoid conflict is to communicate more aggressively.
“The next time I see him I am going to give him a piece of my mind and I am not holding anything back this time!”
Surface relationship preferences: ‘What kind of relationship would you like to have with him? How will giving him a piece of your mind help that relationship?’
Another conflict avoidance strategy is to minimize the importance of what’s going on.
“I think we just have some different philosophies about parenting.”
Expand the size of the conflict or problem: ‘What else is going on between us? Is it just that we differ in how we think about parenting?’
This involves defining issues in a manner that obscures the main substance of the conflict.
“She is the most unethical person I have ever encountered.”
Refocus on a more central issue of the conflict: What is the struggle between her community and your community that you are both part of?
Have you ever used any of these types of conflict avoidance?