There are, generally, two reasons people avoid conflict: fear of disconnection and fear of being judged. Yet, except in the case of pending physical violence in a conflict-heavy situation, this type of conflict avoidance will usually result in more conflict somewhere down the road. Consider even some of the big conflicts that exist across cultures today, they were brewing for a long time before boiling over.

Conflict situations rarely resolve themselves, if ever. Instead, learning to manage conflict is far more effective than simple avoidance. After all, human beings being what we are, disagreements and disputes are to be expected.

If you hope to learn how to manage conflict more effectively, you’ll first need to understand your reasons for avoiding conflict:

  • Fear of disconnection – our fundamental impulse is to connect and when we think having conflict will jeopardize even a nominal connection we avoid it.
  • Fear of being judged – we so want to be accepted and do not want to experience the pain of being judged, we’d rather avoid getting criticized for entering into conflict or to hear the personal criticism that could arise in the course of having conflict.

Overcoming these avoidance responses requires a certain degree of courage and self-acceptance. The fear response to conflict is likely an automated defense mechanism, learned in childhood. We often have developed a number of habits that get in the way of managing conflict; like being polite, being passive-aggressive, or using humor or charm to get what we want. Not only are we sitting on a time-bomb by not stepping into conflict, we are chewing up huge amounts of energy and robbing ourselves of deeper connections.

Learn to manage conflict more effectively

Although I write a lot about Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model for addressing conflict, I recently came across the Center for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College’s, 4-step process to managing conflict more effectively and liked these principles.

  1. Reaching Out – provides a way of getting communications restarted. It is particularly helpful after avoidance has caused interaction to slow down. A person can reach out by asking the other person if they would be willing to try to work through the issue. At times, it might involve an apology.
  2. Perspective Taking – focuses on trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint on the conflict. It involves listening carefully and trying to truly understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
  3. Expressing Emotions – includes sharing your thoughts and feelings about the conflict with the other person. It is an authentic expression of how you view the conflict and involves open, honest discussion of how you see the conflict.
  4. Creating Solutions – concerns working together with the other person to discover collaborative solutions to your joint problem. It helps turn adversarial exchanges into mutual problem solving.

Empathy over sympathy; understanding over apprehension; comprehension over confrontation; these are all the qualities that keep us from being reactive and allows us to stay grounded as we share with another our deeper truth about what we think, feel, and want.

What conflict are you currently avoiding?