This is the third in a series about managing conflict. The introduction to this series begins here.
Avoiding is the third mode of conflict, which describes when a person chooses not to be assertive (they don’t want to satisfy their own concerns) and chooses not be cooperative (they don’t want to satisfy the other person’s concerns). Their aim in his style is to postpone, side-step, if not ignore the conflict altogether.
In our workshops, the common response among participants is to avoid the Avoiding mode. It’s seen as the style which is both wrong and without merit. Because it’s neither preference or assertive or cooperative, the mode – when unwisely chosen – can elicit the negative aspects of its neighboring modes: it can provoke anger (as does the Competing mode), and it can make the person appear weak (as does the Accommodating mode).
Indeed, the Avoiding mode should not be used when …
- A person is deliberately avoiding either a specific person, or a specific situation
- The conflict issue is unimportant, uninteresting, complex or risky
- It’s easier to postpone a decision than deal with it straight-away
Like the other modes, these behaviours compound the conflict problem. Avoiding deteriorates the working relationship between the two parties. Hard feelings, resentment and anger begin or increase. The conflict or the situation stalls, and nothing is addressed or accomplished. It’s the classic definition of a lose-lose situation.
However, for people who tend to fall into this category regularly, there may be situations when Avoiding is the appropriate response, if not preferable. As such, are you choosing it as your conflict style because …
- You’re not adequately prepared for the conflict?
- The situation itself is not conducive to address the conflict?
- There’s an element of danger or risk which needs to subside before the conflict can be addressed?
- It’s not your conflict to deal with? (In other words, you aren’t drawn into someone else’s conflict.)
All of these are positive and pro-active reasons when the Avoiding mode should be selected.
If Avoiding is the Appropriate Option …
… here are some questions to inspire your creativity when you 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. At the same time, you shouldn’t feel stressed to address a conflict until you’re ready. That might mean taking time to read-up on the topic itself, or get other’s opinions, or take a step back to re-examine the situation. If you’re making conscious and reasonable decisions to improve your part of the conflict resolution, the most important thing to do is be transparent. Say why you are postponing, and either give the other person an indication of a precise date when you can resume the conversation, or tell them to contact you if you don’t hear anything 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 probably 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 simple guidelines.
- Learn to deal professionally with people you don’t like. Admittedly, easier said than done. However, a few helpful suggestions. Don’t let another person dictate how you behave. Keep any interactions brief, to the point, and civil, and if possible, open. Remove their personality from all interactions: if it helps, look at them as nothing more than a tool to get your job done. And above all else, don’t waste valuable time thinking or worrying about this person.
- Look forward, not backwards. It’s extremely easy to dig up the past. It allows you to re-hash old news, assign blame, 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. One of the key concepts of “Getting To Yes,” the landmark book on negotiation skills by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, is “Be hard on principle and soft on people.” Again, 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 to well-up with emotions, call for 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, the best advice is to 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 figuratively, perhaps 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 then 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.
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