How do you react to conflict at work? Do you cancel a meeting with the person you disagree with? Or walk a different route to avoid them in the hallway? Or quickly change the subject if you think conflict will arise? If any of these scenarios sound like you, it is likely you naturally navigate to using the avoiding conflict style.
When we correlated the responses to our conflict management styles assessment to see how professionals resolve conflict at work, we uncovered that 4.6% of professionals use the avoiding style.
If you’re wondering if you are most likely to respond to a disagreement by deploying the avoiding conflict style, try the Conflict Styles Quiz at the bottom of this article.
Many people in the workforce tend to avoid conflict. In an article by SHRM, one of their contributors polled a question in a webinar asking, “What’s your instinctive first response to a conflict situation?” and the majority (53%) of participants agreed that their first instinct was to delay responding.
The avoiding conflict style is the least assertive and cooperative of all the conflict management styles. If this is your conflict style, you withdraw from or delay dealing with a conflict either until it “goes away,” is unavoidable, or is resolved by others without your involvement. In other words, you are non-confrontational.
You would likely adopt this conflict management style when the conflict is trivial, you do not have an investment or stake in the topic, or recognize the conflict is symptomatic of a much larger issue that requires more time and attention. In addition, this style is often deployed when you want to defer to someone with more seniority or authority than you.
Advantages of the Avoiding Conflict Style
- Allows for time to think and gather information so rushed decisions are not made
- Gives everyone a chance to “cool down,” collect themselves, and regain perspective
- Helps maintain positive working relationships
Disadvantages of the Avoiding Conflict Style
- Projects passive-aggressiveness or a lack of interest
- Breeds resentment or tension which can negatively affect communication and working relationships
- Inhibits innovation, collaboration, or creative problem-solving
3 Lessons Everyone Can Learn from the Avoiding Conflict Style
Be Mindful If a Response Is Needed Or Not
Not every critical email, underhanded comment, or combative statement needs a response. Using sound judgment, answer the question, “Is a response needed?” The time you take to answer this question and act accordingly could be the key to de-escalating or altogether avoiding a conflict at work.
Silence Can Be Powerful
Silence is a way to nonverbally communicate with those with whom you are in a conflict. It creates a “time out” of sorts which is especially important in emotionally charged situations that are not leading to anything constructive. The key is to choose when you’re silent with great care and consideration, as when used at the wrong time or with the wrong person, it could do more harm than good. For example, it is very different to seemingly ignore a client or executive than it is to take 24 hours before responding to an aggressive email from a colleague.
Not All Conflicts Can, or Should, Be Solved in One Conversation
When the conflict you are dealing with is complicated and nuanced or about a significant, systematic issue, it is unlikely that a solution will be determined in one conversation. Rather than forcing a resolution, sometimes the best course of action is to withdraw from the conversation and delay it until another time. By doing so, you may stop the conversation before it becomes unproductive and futile. It will give everyone time to gather information, collect their thoughts, and reflect on the different perspectives presented.
Do You Know Your Conflict Style?
Everyone has their own way of dealing with a disagreement at work. However, two psychologists uncovered five common styles people use to handle conflict at work, with the avoiding conflict style being one of them.
If you’re unsure which conflict style you commonly use, take this quiz to uncover your style and determine how you compare by sharing the quiz with your colleagues.
It isn’t productive to be avoiding discussions where you know conflict will arise or trying to bypass someone you have disagreed with. Luckily, you can overcome your natural tendency to avoid conflict by attending a communications program that gives you the tools to have productive conversations to resolve a dispute. Programs such as Difficult Conversations Work or Speaking as a Leader will build your confidence and skills to tackle the most challenging situations where there is conflict at work.