Ways to Resolve Conflict When Others Avoid It
You are rare if you want to resolve conflict instead of avoiding it. Based on my 8 years of teaching conflict management, most people want to learn ways they can avoid conflict. Chances are your co-workers, family, and friends do not want to solve that tough issue between you and them.
To survive and thrive in any relationship you must know ways to manage people who prefer to overlook “negative feelings” then put a rosy-glow on everything – and even how to make yourself not be afraid of dealing with relationship warfare. Conflict is unavoidable even to those who avoid it because our differences in culture, values, needs, and perspectives will always cause collisions.
If you aim for conflict avoidance, it isn’t avoided or somehow solved. Problems escalate, resentment builds, and relationships die. What gets avoided is enjoyable relationships, the true depths of human beings, and reality. You must learn effective ways to resolve conflict when others prefer to pretend perfection.
Why We Fear Fights, Feuds, and Fall Outs
The primary reason we avoid conflict is it’s scary. Why? By definition conflict is opposition, incompatibility, struggle. Not very sexy.
Avoidance is just one way to deal with a scary situation. Conflict creates a stressful environment that invokes primal responses of freeze, fight, fright, and flight for survival. We freeze to go undetected, fight to kill, respond with fright to intensify awareness, and take flight to live another day. Most responses in these categories lead to destructive interactions.
Your past experiences with conflict are likely the most painful moments of your life. Maybe conflict made you divorce, break up with your partner, quit work. It may have lead to death because someone couldn’t handle a problem any longer. Is it any wonder people avoid conflict?
Conflict is often destructive, other times disruptive. Projects at work get delayed when disputes exist. A group momentarily stops enjoying a party when friends fight. A family shuts each other out for the remainder of the night after a disagreement over dinner.
The Surprising Importance of Conflict Resolution
Conflict is often destructive, other times disruptive.
The purpose of conflict resolution isn’t to avoid it. Conflict resolution aims to solve problems to met the needs and interests of each party to stop destruction, minimize disruption, and enhance the relationship. With this in mind, you can frame conflict in an inviting manner unlike the fear and frustration we normally associate with conflict.
“Conflict can be seen as a gift of energy,” said conflict resolution trainer and Aikido teacher Thomas Crum, “in which neither side loses and a new dance is created.” It can be a gift you love to receive. My friend and conflict mediator Gary Harper even has a great book titled The Joy of Conflict Resolution.
When you take the step of courage to resolve conflict, you enter a moment to understand another human at a deep level. Self-understanding occurs, creativity is stimulated, and relationships deepen in the face of conflict resolution.
Conflict rarely solves itself so you must be proactive about its resolution. I wish there were a way to totally avoid conflict and still get the benefits of resolution, yet there’s no such route. What you need are the following effective conflict management techniques that transform fear, fights, feuds, and fall outs into resolution when others (and sometimes yourself) avoid conflict:
1. Make it Known Problems Are Okay
Perfection shuts down workplace and family communication fast. In response, managers and parents want small talk tactics to open up communication, but that’s like trying to light up a dark sewer with a match stick.
A core part of my Big Talk Training Course helps you uncover what’s called the “shadow image” to truly open up group conversation. Once you know how to talk about the things people prefer to avoid, conversation effortlessly flows.
“Nice people” block out their dark side where the shadow image resides. They suffer with communication by not feeling anger, sadness, or fear. Resentment, frustration, and an inability to deal with conflict surfaces because they refuse to deal with what they block out. They literally avoid parts of themselves by avoiding conflict.
An effective technique to bring the shadow image into the light is to let others know mistakes, problems, disagreement, and expression are not “okay”, but needed. Mention differences, misunderstandings, and unmet needs will forever exist so it’s vital each of you talk about what you’re afraid to discuss. Tell them it’s normal to be in conflict, yet what’s rare is the healthy ability to face conflict.
You can say, “Problems, mistakes, and imperfections are good. We learn from them. They make us human. I need to know what you see and feel, otherwise what affects you is ignored. Will you help each of us with that?”
2. Encourage Open Communication
One way to encourage open communication is to make it known problems are okay. Other ways popular in the workplace, which can also be used with families and friends, are feedback channels.
A feedback channel I like is having a session each week or month where praise is shared and problems must be mentioned. Goals can be made where each coworker or family member must praise one thing and mention another subject that concerns him or her. Everyone is to share, listen, and avoid criticism to create a safe environment for expression.
Open communication is a good habit to practice. When an important issue rises, you are then prepared to face it.
3. Observe Body Language
An effective technique to encourage open communication and face conflict when someone avoids it is to observe people’s body language. Emotions show through attitude, behavior, or expression. All three are nonverbally communicated.
Even when a person avoids conflict, their emotions are visible through bodily expressions.
Nonverbal communication doesn’t just hint at what’s going on inside a person, it is what’s going on inside a person. Even when a person avoids conflict, their emotions are visible through bodily expressions. If a guy doesn’t say what he feels (“I am angry”), you’ll see the emotion in more potentially harmful ways of attitude and behavior like sarcasm, avoidance, gossip, and forms of addiction.
Comment on the specific body language signals you pick up on. If you just say, “You look frustrated. Is there something you want to tell me?”, the nice conflict avoider will reply, “No”. Be specific by saying, “When I said I need you to work overtime, you turned your head then rolled your eyes. It seems you were bothered by my request. That’s okay. Share with me what’s on your mind.”
4. Lighten the Moment
Life can get too serious. Lighten conflict when appropriate to get people facing their differences.
Humor is one-way to reduce tension. In fact, humor is often a release of tension. One company owner in a meeting observed the secretary verbally dominate the marketing director Jim over a tactic to acquire customers. The owner interrupted his secretary: “Okay. We could settle this in the boxing ring, but the board of directors will probably fire me for employee abuse… What do you think Jim, about the tactic to acquire customers?”
Another way to lighten conflict is with a tactic from the first chapter of my Communication Secrets of Powerful People program: use padded words. The technique softens what can be harsh. Examples of padded words include: “I feel there’s a small issue to face…”, “It’s not much, but I’d like to…”, and “Maybe we can…”
Do not overuse padded words otherwise it blurs the issue causing your message to lose its intended meaning. Be aware that softening conflict can be a form of avoidance. Keep the conversation light if it gets intense yet be sure to address the issue.
5. Provide Positive Reinforcement
Are You a Conflict Avoider?
Take the short quiz below to see if you avoid conflict. Do you:
- Think positively to solve problems?
- Not talk about things you disagree over?
- Hide feelings?
- Depend on religion to solve relationship problems?
- Believe talking about disagreements worsens a problem?
If you answered “yes” to most questions, you’re probably a conflict avoider. Use the advice in this article to help you face conflict.
Conflict is avoided because of negative reinforcement. Attempts to change are met with defensive behavior resulting in learned hopelessness. Name-calling, ignorance of feelings, shouting, abusive tactics, and violence are punishment to unconsciously tell someone, “Avoid similar situations in the future otherwise suffer again.”
The way to solve this using Skinner’s behavioral theory is to provide positive reinforcement. Do what you can to consciously and unconsciously make someone want to address conflict. Often the intrinsic reward of solving a tough issue alone is enough motivation.
When someone takes the step into the scary unknown of open communication by confronting conflict, it’s important to reinforce the desired behavior with effective conflict management techniques. In the absence of these methods, you could end up making the conflict destructive and further reinforce the person’s patterns of avoidance.
You can also welcome different perspectives by asking for the person’s opinion. Listen then thank the person for expressing himself or herself. Everyone loves to feel listened to, understood, and appreciated.
Conflict avoidance doesn’t have to destroy your workplace, marriage, or family when you use the above five ways to deal with conflict. Just be sure to not avoid what I’ve given you.
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/