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

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


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Unnecessary Conflict – How Daily Hassles Contribute to Stress Reactions

What are your daily hasslesIn our daily lives, we often encounter stress and do not recognize it for what it actually is or give ourselves the space to manage it effectively. Stress can be triggered by overwhelming work and life responsibilities. When left un-managed, stress can affect the interactions between family members and friends creating unnecessary tensions and conflict. For example, have you found yourself lashing out at a loved one, and not sure why? Or come home from work, school, or even a shopping trip in a foul mood? You may be experiencing stress or anxiety. Stress can produce psychological reactions like nervousness, worrying, frustration, and other negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and loneliness.

I recently started an argument with a family member, not because it was warranted, but because I let the stress of the day get to me. One evening after working and attending evening classes I received a call from my cousin who was excited to discuss travel arrangements for an upcoming trip. When I answered the phone, I was short and barely listened to her. Sensing this, she asked what was wrong. At the time I was not aware why I was behaving that way. In fact, I was actually excited about the upcoming trip, but my psychological reaction to the stressors I had experienced that day overrode the excitement

Stresses that are regularly occurring in our day-to-day lives are called daily hassles. Professor and researcher, Richard S. Lazarus grouped the daily hassles as follows:
• Household hassles: cooking, cleaning, household upkeep, and shopping
• Health hassles: illness, concerns regarding health care and medicine
• Time-pressure hassles: not enough time in the day to get all responsibilities done
• Inner-core hassles: loneliness
• Environmental hassles: crime, traffic, living arrangements
• Financial responsibility hassles: money concerns
• Work hassles: conflict with co-workers and job dissatisfaction
• Future security hassles: concerns regarding retirement, taxes, and the economy

In reflection, I had experienced environmental hassles from the daily commute from work to school and time-pressure hassles. During the day I was concerned about making it to class on time, I was worried about the work I left at the office, and struggled to find time to eat dinner. So when I arrived home all I wanted to do was relax, get something to eat, and then go to sleep. Instead of recognizing the daily hassles I had experienced that day, I unconsciously projected my frustrations on to my cousin.

Next time you have a negative reaction to a family member, friend or co-worker ask yourself: How many daily hassles have I experienced today? Are these hassles temporary or permanent? You may also listen to the podcast on the Texas Conflict Coach® by Brady Mikusko called Stress Reduction Using EFT – At Work or Home to learn tools to handle stress and reduce negative emotions to prevent future and unnecessary conflicts.

By Tracy Culbreath
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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