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February 2016
Communication at Work

Conflict AvoidantPatti Lind

How often do you hear that phrase? Do you ever use it to describe yourself?

Many people do and for good reason. Conflict can elicit stress and tension in our bodies before we even contemplate how to address it. Our history with conflicting with others, has informed us that it is unpredictable. Emotions can rise; words are said and remembered. Despite best intentions, the problems discussed might be hard to resolve. It is little wonder that early in our adulthood we decided that avoiding conflict is the safest route. I know that I was an early dodger of conflict conversations and I had two degrees in communication.

But there is a difference between being anxious around conflict and labeling our self as conflict avoidant. When we label our self, we set limits on what we can learn and what we can do. We apply self-labels all the time. I'm bad at math. I can't dance. I can't speak in groups. Too often those sentences really mean that I am unwilling to try.

When we label ourselves as conflict avoidant it becomes a ready excuse to not learn the fundamental communication skills of working through conflict. This places us at risk because conflict is a normal part of every relationship and work situation. Those who want to help people learn conflict skills have studied it for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote about managing anger in 300 BC. Confucious advised not going down the path of revenge in 500 BC. Steven Covey wrote book after book trying to bring this timeless wisdom into our century so that we can have better work experiences, better relationships and stronger families.

Usually this timeless wisdom is very practical and can be incorporated into our daily lives. How to overcome the fear of reasonable risk, initiate conversations with respectful honesty and listen when we have diverse views. How to advocate for our interests and negotiating compromise. How to find forgiveness and resilience because conflict frequently demands patience.

The wonderful thing about communication and life is that every day we get a fresh start when it comes to how we want to "show up" in life.

If you are labeling yourself as conflict avoidant, take a moment to think about how long you have been describing yourself that way. Isn't it time to decide you can set that label aside and grow?

Here are some ideas to consider …
  1. Reframe the label into possibility.
    • I used to be conflict avoidant.
    • I am working on becoming more comfortable with conflict.
    • My tendency is to avoid conflict conversations but I am trying to turn that around.
    • I am developing my courage when it comes to conflict.
  2. Read a good book on Conflict Resolution (see Resource Tip).
  3. Find a mentor who is willing to be a thought partner for conflict situations.
  4. Identify a situation that you are avoiding and set a simple goal.
    • I want to be honest with them about my needs.
    • I want to advocate being listened to.
    • I want to set a boundary on their put down humor.
  5. Practice with your mentor before hand
  6. Start a journal on what you learned, and what you might do differently next time.
  7. Finally, take ownership for the damage you might be doing as you avoid direct conversations: talking badly about people, refusing to work with them, setting people up for failure by withholding information, etc.

  8. If someone in your life is avoiding resolving conflicts with you because of this self-labeling, consider this …
    • When they label themselves as conflict avoidant, rephrase it.
      • Are you open to moving beyond that?
      • Are you willing to overcome that tendency and "talk things through " going forward?
    • Keep the relationship safe. Free of blaming and shaming.
    • Express appreciation for any attempt to talk with you directly, honestly and respectfully.
    • Bring your best listening skills forward to ensure they feel heard.

    The pathway towards overcoming hesitancy and self-doubt around conflict resolution is not a swift one. Life will continue to offer the opportunity to learn communication skills through the span of one's life. The important thing is to challenge any statement that suggests effective communication and the ability to address conflicts is not a possibility for you.
Provide some examples of self-labeling that can stand in the way of being successful at work. (e.g. I don’t do "small talk". I am shy. I am bad at PowerPoint. I can’t write.) Ask your team members to write down a self-label that is holding them back. Then ask them to set a goal for the next month (e.g. start simple small talk conversations with people I rarely talk to; smile and say "hi" to people; sign up for a PowerPoint class; learn about organizing an email.) The following month, share success stories.

The Coward's Guide to Conflict: Empowering Solutions for Those Who Would Rather Run The Fight by Tim Ursiny. I bought this book several years ago and thought it was very well written. It is particularly aimed at those who have anxiety around conflict.

My book, Communication At Work, is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and eBook formats, and may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Bookstore and Inkwater Press.
Communication at Work

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Patti Lind | pattilind.com | 503-318-4665
3703 SE Tolman, Portland, OR 97202



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