Conflict avoiding, me?

Do you know how you deal with tricky personal or professional situations?
This article will help conflict avoiding readers to be more honest ànd become more effective.

A couple of weeks ago I trained a creative company in Amsterdam. Together with the entire staff we discussed possible ways to deal with conflicts of interests. I was positively surprised when one of the founders of the company shared that although his ambition is to deal with conflicts constructively he realizes that he tends to dodge most problems.

Different conflict modes

To introduce the topic I use this conflict mode instrument (TKI):

tki conflict modes


The TKI instrument model displays five different conflict modes depending on how collaborative or competitive we are. And although everyone makes use of all five conflict modes we tend to lean towards one or maximum two of these modes. This is not a conscious choice but rather the result of how we have been taught (or mostly not taught) to deal with conflicts.

When being asked about your personal conflict mode most people – including myself – will give socially acceptable answers. And those people who just like myself admire assertiveness but have never learned to deal with conflicts are in denial about how conflict avoiding they really are.

Yet for anyone who is eager to learn how to deal with conflicts it is crucial to become aware of your instinctive way of dealing with them.

A short survey

Following is a short survey aimed at people who dodge every potentially difficult situation but who are not aware that they do so.

Read the following and assess whether you are one of them.

Do you in most cases tend to:

  1. Say ‘Yes’ or formally agree, but you really go your own way either way.
  2. Keep your mouth shut because you feel bringing up how you feel about it is not going to help anyone.
  3. Plan a meeting about anything that might be tricky and postpone taking a decision to a next meeting.
  4. Convince yourself that managing other people’s expectations is their problem not yours.
  5. Postpone a difficult conversation because you are really too busy right now to even think about it.
  6. Complain about problems to others who are indirectly involved secretly hoping that they will deal with it and solve your problem too.
  7. Tell people around you ‘Do let me know whenever something is bothering you’ when the truth is that you’d rather not know at all.

Do you recognize any of these ‘tactics’?

When to avoid and when not to avoid

Destructive avoiding

Very often we do not assess situations but are driven by – unacknowledged – fear or shame to avoid all difficulties and avoid without thinking. And in those case avoiding is often destructive.

Avoiding is ineffective and possibly even destructive whenever:

Your interests are at stake and are of great importance to you.

The interests of people who depend on you or are in some way important to you are at stake.

The interests at stake belong to people who you depend on.

In longlasting collaborations the above is almost always the case. So really avoiding dealing with conflicting interests within a collaboration is always ill advice. When your interests or your partners interests are not being met for a substantial time the collaboration will most certainly end or turn sour.

In real life people tend to reason the other way round and mostly non hierarchical organizations can turn really sour because too many people are turning a blind eye. In doing so tensions only grow bigger and problems will become even more threatening to the organization or company.

Effective avoiding

When you do take the time to assess the situation and you have consciously opted to avoid a person or situation you are probably doing the sensible thing.

In fact avoiding is an effective conflict mode whenever:

The stakes are not high at all.
The situation is very complex, the stakes are high and there is no time left to deal with them effectively.
There is a substantial power difference to your disadvantage and challenging the other party will only harm you.

Avoiding can also be strategic as a preliminary measure until all the facts are known to you or in the event of a heated debate to permit you to wait until the other person has cooled down and is ready to talk to you again.

When you know you should seek a confrontation but feel like hiding out

Help yourself seek a confrontation by answering the following questions:

What can you gain by speaking up?

What can people around you – directly or indirectly involved – gain if you decide to speak up?

What is the worst thing that can happen as a result of your decision to speak up?

You will know what to do now.

It might be very hard the first time but in time it will become much easier and in any case more effective!



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