503: Conflict Avoidance

A Thousand Things to Talk About
503: Conflict Avoidance

Do you avoid conflict? Do you feel you should?

Full episode script

Conflict isn’t always fun — but does that mean it’s something we should avoid? Type “conflict avoidance” into Google and you’re likely to find articles such as “7 signs you’re chronically conflict avoidant” and “Conflict avoidance: it doesn’t make the problem go away.” You’ll also find pages and pages of articles claiming that conflict avoidance is something we ALL do and EVERYONE does too much of. Or perhaps it’s that we all seek out too much conflict, or the wrong type of conflict, or…


As the University of Wisconsin – Madison office of Human Resource Development puts it, quote:


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.


This more complex view of conflict avoidance hinted at here is explored much more deeply in the 2002 article Understanding Conflict Avoidance: Relationship, motivations, actions, and consequences” from the International Journal of Conflict Management. That article, quote:

argues that conflict avoidance, as befitting its ubiquity, is not one straightforward

approach but has various motivations and actions, and these motivations and

actions impact its consequences. It proposes that there are cooperative, relational oriented reasons as well as more negative motives to avoid conflict, and these

reasons impact the behavioral strategies and consequences of conflict avoidance.


And it’s true that conflict avoidance sometimes creates good solutions, especially depending on the kind of social expectations around it. And those social expectations can shift depending on your gender. As one 2005 study on romantic relationships found:

women low in conflict avoidance became more secure over time, and those high in conflict avoidance became less secure. For men whose relationships remained intact, conflict avoidance was not related to change in attachment characteristics.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.