Successful Conflict Management
Most people experience conflict on an almost daily basis because we interact with other people frequently, and sometimes we have different values or care about different things. Most of the time, the stakes are low—for example where to have a meeting or what to order for lunch—but sometimes, someone’s employment or even the integrity of an entire company could be on the line. Resolving conflicts successfully is key to developing positive personal and professional relationships.
There are many ways of handling conflict. The five modes identified by the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) is a great place to start to understand what they are and when and how they should be used.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode: Avoiding
The Avoiding mode is the default for many people. Avoiding a conflict means trying not to engage at all. Most people avoid conflicts if they think the issue is “not worth it” or if they prefer not to interact with a particular person. They might also be procrastinating, either out of habit or because of one of the reasons above. The TKI™ Avoiding style has obvious benefits. It often reduces stress and saves time, for instance. On the other hand, avoiding conflict also creates isolation and even resentment, and it could delay key projects because central decisions have not been made. In a worst-case scenario, avoiding conflict could cause business relationships to decline or even disintegrate.
In general, it is best not to avoid people that you have a conflict with, especially in the workplace. In most organizations, being professional means prioritizing work over comfort and personal opinions. On the other hand, there may be specific contexts where avoiding a topic may be beneficial, especially if the conflict is emotionally charged or was caused by someone making a serious mistake. Regardless of the nature of the conflict, controlling your anger and emotions is of the utmost importance. It may also be a good idea to avoid conflicts in which little can be gained. Some issues are too trivial to merit your attention, while others can be easily handled by other people. There is also the question of whether a conflict is appropriate in a specific context. For example, discussing politics or religion are often inappropriate in a professional setting.
When to use the Avoiding Conflict Management Style
You may also choose to avoid a conflict just for the time being. That is, you may decide to postpone it until you have more time to discuss or negotiate a compromise, or until you have the information you need to make a decision. In some cases, you may even need to “take a break” if a discussion gets too heated or where some distance could be beneficial. In order to avoid seeming evasive, you may wish to set a time and place to resume the discussion. Diffusing tension with humor and positive language can help as well. As with all of the TKI® modes of management, knowing when and how to use the Avoiding conflict management mode is essential to effectively making decisions.
Introduction to Conflict Management (Kenneth W. Thomas, 2002, CPP Inc.)