Are you a conflict avoider?
Conflict is a normal, unavoidable part of life. But for many people, engaging effectively with conflict is a huge challenge.
Each and every day, every single one of us deals with conflict, both internally and in our relationships with others. Internal conflict is something a lot of us brush aside or give short shrift to, not realizing that when we’re confused or anxious about our own competing goals, desires, and wishes, it can deeply affect our relationships with others.
Many of us wage a constant internal struggle in our attempt to find “work-life balance”. When quality family time is constantly being undermined by the external demands of our jobs and the endless errands and mundane tasks of running a household, or when an important client meeting needs to be cancelled due to a child’s unexpected illness, we are brought into conflict. Whether we are with our kids, at work, running errands, or trying to make a dent in the endless pile of laundry, many of us are constantly worrying about what we are not getting done, and feeling stressed, anxious, or guilty. This creates internal conflict.
External conflict occurs when there is a tension between your needs, goals, and desires and those of another person. If your boss is pressuring you to meet a deadline but you are internally conflicted over whether that is really your most pressing priority, your internal conflict may lead you into external conflict with your boss.
But does conflict mean coming to blows with your boss? Not necessarily. If you are a conflict avoider, you will just try to please everyone by attempting to juggle all of the competing demands (even if you fee that they’re unreasonable or excessive), perhaps by cutting back on sleep or arranging for more help (paid or unpaid) with your children in order to add more time to your day, and thereby please everyone.
The problem with conflict avoidance is that the conflict doesn’t go away, and others will have no idea how overwhelmed, resentful, and exhausted you may be, because you give the impression of being unflappable, able to handle anything that’s added to your already-full plate, and more capable than others. This creates a vicious cycle, because the less capable you are of saying “no” and drawing boundaries, the more people will dump all over you and the more exhausted and resentful you will become.
So why are so many people afraid to speak up for themselves when they feel conflicted? Conflict avoidance is a function of upbringing, culture, and personality, as well as a reaction to the patterns of the person with whom you are coming into conflict. For example, if you are a woman who has been taught to be a “pleaser”, and you try over and over to raise your concerns with your boss, who shuts you down, yells at you, or questions your commitment every time you do, you will learn to keep your mouth shut if you want to keep your job.
But where does “learning to keep your mouth shut” get you, other than feeling incredibly frustrated and taken advantage of?
This is one of those difficult circumstances where you either have to work on changing your conflict management strategy – which can be extremely difficult to do – or consider making a major change in how your life is structured, which can mean asking yourself some hard questions about whether it may be time to look for a healthier work environment.
Conflict avoidance is just one unproductive pattern of dealing with interpersonal challenges. Equally unproductive is the “competing” personality type – the person who has to be “right” at any cost. While the “avoider” has relationship problems due to resentment, unexpressed frustration, and exhaustion, the “competitor” has relationship problems because he is generally viewed as selfish, uncaring, and unappreciative. And when an “avoider” and a “competitor” are in any kind of relationship, the results can be disastrous.
More about “competitors”, and their own particular relationship challenges, next time.