Why Do We Tend to Avoid Conflict?
Engaging in dialogue and negotiation around conflict is something we tend to approach with fear and hesitation, afraid that the conversation will go worse than the conflict has gone thus far. All too often, we talk ourselves out of potential dialogue:
"Why should I talk to her? She'll bite my head off and not listen to anything I have to say!"
"I should talk to him about this problem, but maybe it will go away on its own. There's no sense stirring up something that makes us both uncomfortable."
"If I go to him, I'm making myself vulnerable. No, that's his responsibility - he should come to me and ask me to talk!"
Our responses, as noted earlier, tend to include behaviors, feelings, thoughts and physical responses. If any of these responses indicates stress factors that make us reluctant to talk things out, we are more inclined to follow the pathway of avoidance. In addition, if we have history with the individuals involved in this conflict (i.e., we've tried to negotiate with them in the past, without success), it will "filter" our perceptions of this situation and make us reluctant to negotiate.
In addition, consider that our society tends to reward alternative responses to conflict, rather than negotiation: People who aggressively pursue their needs, competing rather than collaborating, are often satisfied by others who prefer to accommodate. Managers and leaders are often rewarded for their aggressive, controlling approaches to problems, rather than taking a more compassionate approach to issues that may seem less decisive to the public or their staffs. In other circumstances, those who raise issues and concerns, even respectfully, are quickly perceived to be "problem" clients or staff members… they tend to be avoided and minimized. In any of these approaches, negotiated solutions to conflicts are rarely modeled or held in high esteem.
Finally, we should keep in mind that negotiation requires profound courage on the part of all parties: It takes courage to honestly and clearly articulate your needs, and it takes courage to sit down and listen to your adversaries. It takes courage to look at your own role in the dispute, and it takes courage to approach others with a sense of empathy, openness and respect for their perspective. Collaborative approaches to conflict management require us to engage in the moment of dialogue in profound and meaningful ways, so it is understandable if we tend to avoid such situations until the balance of wisdom tips in favor of negotiation.
[see video clip on "Confronting Conflicts" for additional information (: windows media)]
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