Your avoidance of conflict may cost you … literally.

"Women that I know don’t want to be the bad guy." Those were the words that a business owner recently shared with me while discussing conflict.

I was sharing how I help clients to communicate more effectively and in how many ways it helps create more time and success in their lives. As we were talking, she shared that if she had been able to manage conversations better with a former employee that she would have saved $300,000 in a lawsuit.

Culturally, many women have learned that “being nice” equates with avoiding conflict. Somehow the message is that if you enter into conflict and say what you mean that you will be the bag guy or worse a bitch. That “nice girls” and ladylike behavior calls for quite and polite or someone to smooth over an uncomfortable situation.

Avoiding conflict or uncomfortable situations doesn’t make them go away. In fact the avoidance can actually create a worse conflict with highly uncomfortable results. When we avoid it, we send the message that we want to distance ourselves and avoid the other person involved.  And we don’t like when people want to avoid us – it often triggers feelings of rejection, fear and ultimately anger in us. And when we feel anger, we can get petty and do unkind things… like suing a former employer and friend that we used to like.

Situations of conflict are affected 100% by perception. What I might perceive and respond to quite easily, may be a situation that triggers is much tension for you that you flight, fight or flee. If I handle it easily I save energy, feel lighter, can move onto the next situation without any baggage.  When we get bogged down by a interaction that we defined as conflicted, we expend energy before, during and after the interaction – energy that could be used for things we love or other creative ideas.

The emotion of fear can become as heavy as real solid matter. We can choose to identify it as simply an emotion that arises as we look at the potential of what might happen.  The potential that the person I am about to talk with might be angry, sad, excited…it is all unknown how they will react so we become fearful and create stories around outcomes that haven’t even happened yet.

1.     Conflict is often based around change – a change in a situation, conversation, relationship, emotion, etc.

2.     People fear change because it makes them feel emotionally unsafe when they do not know what is about to happen, they fear that they won’t be able to manage the result, or they fear they will lose power.

3.     Avoiding the conflict creates a situation where the fear of change can now build and create a bigger more dramatic situation to be dealt with

4.     People just want to know what is coming next and what they can expect so they can mitigate their discomfort and fear of the unknown.

5.     Approaching an uncomfortable situation directly, transparently and kindly will diffuse tension and close the distance between you. If you avoid the situation, now you have increased the unknown for them and the distance between you and the other person.

6.     Result of avoidance: More fear, anger, poor decision making (aka lawsuit), retaliation, disrespect….Etc.

7.     Result of engagement: Though it may not be joyful at the end you have increased understanding, diffused fear, potential for moving forward respectfully.

When people are in fear we make bad decisions.  

People like to feel connected. Creating a connection with the person you are in conflict with, gives you a new approach. It can help diffuse the fear for both of you. I have written before about direct, transparent, kind communication. When we use these three points in an interaction we shift the dynamics between two people. We do not have to agree with one another to maintain a respectful connection and move through conflict in a way that productive for both of us.

Most people have not had it modeled for them how conflict can be handled easily and fluidly. This is one of the things I work on with clients because the voidance of conflict drains time and energy and is exhausting way more than the “conflict” itself.