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Managing Conflict: Avoiding

This article is one in a series of five about managing conflict using the . The introduction to the series begins .


This mode of conflict describes a person who chooses to be both non-assertive and non-cooperative. They don’t satisfy their or the other party’s concerns.

Their goal in this mode it to delay (to better prepare), if not avoid the conflict altogether, but at the same time, should not appear evasive.

Among all modes, this mode is often the one most selected by participants, but  they also admit they try to avoid the Avoiding mode as it’s seen as a style that is wrong and without merit. (There are many benefits of Avoiding, but let’s hold that thought.)

Because it’s neither a preference of assertive or cooperative, this mode – when unwisely chosen – can elicit the negative aspects of its neighboring modes. Avoiding can provoke anger as does the Competing mode. Avoiding can make the person appear weak as does the Accommodating mode.

TKI Mode - Avoiding
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Indeed, the Avoiding mode should not be used when …

  • A person is deliberately avoiding a specific situation or person for no good reason
  • The conflict issue is extremely important, complex or risky
  • Procrastination is the real culprit: why deal with a decision when it can be put off until tomorrow?

Also, inappropriate use of Avoiding may …

  • Deteriorate the working relationship between the two parties
  • Cause hard feelings, resentment and anger to begin or increase
  • Stall the conflict or the situation overall
  • Cause nothing to be addressed or accomplished

It’s the classic definition of a ‘lose-lose’ situation.

Avoiding is best used when something is missing

Despite all the reasons not to avoid, there are many situations when Avoiding is the preferable response, for example:

  • Lack of preparation of the topic, conflict
  • The situation lacks context or perspective
  • There’s more than one side, and some sides haven’t yet been consulted
  • The situation has charged emotions, risk or even danger which needs to subside or be handled separately
  • The situation is already lost, but the other party is using you for leverage (to get a better price for something where your company isn’t even in the running)
  • It’s not your conflict to deal with; in other words, don’t get drawn into someone else’s conflict

If you believe Avoiding is your best option

Here are some questions to create options which might minimise the negative effects of this mode.

How can you demonstrate you aren’t being evasive?

You don’t want to go unprepared into any situation, much less one laden with conflict or problems. You also shouldn’t feel pressed to address a conflict until you’re ready. That might mean taking time to read-up on the topic itself. Get other’s opinions. Take a step back to re-examine the situation.

If you’re making conscious and reasonable steps to improve the conflict resolution, the most important thing to do is be transparent. Say why you are postponing. Give the other party a precise time or date when you can resume the conversation. Or, tell them to contact you if they don’t hear anything from you within a reasonable amount of time. Do not avoid for avoidance’s sake. If you do, you are eroding your own credibility – and that’s an asset you need to protect, not destroy – especially in a conflict situation.

How can you avoid anyone – yourself included – personalising the conflict?

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t react in some way to a conflict. However, bringing highly charged emotions – such as anger, frustration, bitterness – to the conversation is not an effective way to deal with the conflict. There’s a few guidelines.

  • Learn to deal professionally with people you don’t like. Admittedly, easier said than done. However, a few suggestions. Don’t let another person dictate how you behave. Keep any interactions brief, to the point, civil, and transparent. Remove their personality from all interactions. If it helps, look at them as nothing more than a means to get your job done. Above all else, don’t waste valuable time thinking or worrying about this person.
  • Look forward, not backward. It’s easy to dig up the past. It allows you to re-hash old news, assign blame, or make assumptions. The point of conflict and negotiation is not to equalise the past, it’s to start from ‘now’ and move toward a future solution.
  • Don’t personalise. In , the authors cite: “Be hard on principle and be soft on people.” That means being soft on yourself as well. Keep personalities out of the discussion.
  • Don’t over-generalise. Be precise in your interactions. Don’t broad-brush a situation as if “You always act this way.”
  • Find ways which allow you or the other party to vent safely. If you need to clear your head, graciously excuse yourself from the situation and go elsewhere. If you feel the other party is becoming emotional, call a break, and leave, giving them space to vent on their own.

How can you graciously side-step the conflict, but still help to address it?

This is a favourite tactic of people who like to win endorsement from others to bolster their side of the conflict. Don’t get in the middle. If the conflict is not yours, or if you are not a key decision-maker, be transparent. “I understand that you’re angry, but I’m not the person who can help you. You need to speak to Person X.” Preferably, I’d suggest you also get out of the situation physically, perhaps by leaving – or by immediately changing the subject.

How do you decide which conflicts to address? Which to avoid?

The best criteria to use in choosing which conflicts to address are the ones which the outcome has a significant impact on your role. If not, be clear that you’re removing yourself from the conflict, and say why.

If you have a large stake in the conflict, you need to keep the business objective top-of-mind, particularly if you and the other party share the same objectives. Finding mutual ground at the beginning of the conflict is an effective way of steering clear of petty issues. Always keep the end goal in mind, and when the conversation begins to veer off course, use the goals to put the conversation back on track.

In this area of Avoiding, what are your experiences in managing conflict or negotiation?  Have you ever avoided a conflict, and why? What did you do?  Please share your thoughts and stories in the Comments below.

This article is my own interpretation of TKI. The artwork is my own.

All copyright is owned by Kenneth W. Thomas & Ralph H. Kilmann (1974), “Conflict Mode Instrument,” XICOM Incorporated, 33rd Printing, 1991.

As a reminder, here are all five modes of the TKI Instrument.

The series begins .

TKI All Five Modes May 2024
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Managing Conflict: Avoiding