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Confront or Not to Confront, that is the Question! An Analysis of When to Avoid Conflict

Posted on Nov 13 2015 under Blog Posts

conflict-405744_1280I ran into a dilemma this week with a friend; I will call her Layla. I found out Layla told another friend of mine, will call him David, that I said something when I didn’t. The dilemma arose when I told my husband about the incident because I, being a non-avoider, wanted to confront her, while my husband, an avoider, thought I should let it go. My husband and I then began our on-going debate about whether avoidance is a good or bad thing in conflict.

I know from my conflict resolution education and research that the avoidance as a conflict approach is applicable in certain situations. Dale Eilerman contributor to Mediate.com cites several examples of when avoidance is okay, such as when the conflict is minor and bringing it up could affect the relationship negatively, when you want to give yourself time and space to think about a situation, or when you need to reduce angry emotions.

I have always struggled with being conflict avoidant because my default setting is to confront the situation head-on. It is challenging to ignore my feelings and let things go. My solution for most conflict is to address it … now! I have always believed that if conflict is allowed to linger, it can cause detrimental effects. So when addressing my concern to my husband, he raised a good question. If I addressed the conflict, what would it solve?

My friend, David, was not upset with me even though he might have misinterpreted what Layla told him. David also has a reputation for misunderstanding other’s information. If I confronted Layla about David’s retelling of the story, she could get upset with David for saying something to me. Finally, there was a chance that if I confronted Layla, another conflict avoider, whether she said it or not she would deny the conversation and not want to discuss it with me.

I countered my husband’s question with what could happen if I didn’t address the conflict. I felt hurt and angered by the communication. I felt my reputation with David was compromised and I needed to understand the what and why of Layla’s conversation. Did she lie? What motivated her to say that to David? If I didn’t confront Layla, those feelings would not be addressed and I could build resentment towards her.

Ultimately, I made the decision not to confront. I did so because Layla had never done anything like this before and I felt that if I confronted her it could create more conflict, not just between her and I, but she and David. So what do I do about my feelings? When you don’t acknowledge your emotions and they go unresolved resentment slowly simmers and builds. It took me a long time to learn but I could let go of my anger. I needed to recognize the anger and the motivation to confront Layla. I wanted to clear my reputation and I wanted to protect relationships too. I really had to analyze for myself and my friendships what action to take: confront or not to confront.

If you find yourself in a conflict and can’t decide whether to avoid or confront ask yourself these questions:

  1. What would get solved by addressing this conflict?
  2. What further problems could result if you addressed this conflict?
  3. What would be the advantages if you chose to avoid?
  4. If I don’t acknowledge negative feelings towards another person will it build resentment or further distance your relationship?

Conflict avoidance is a strategy and a choice to deescalate a situation or minimize negative emotions. Consistently choosing to avoid conflict because of the discomfort of addressing emotions can lead to resentment; anger and retaliation. Analyzing whether to confront or avoid is no easy task. It takes forethought to decide how it will impact relationships or outcomes. Which will you choose?

 

Abigail R. C. McManus M. S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice


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