One of the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn is handling conflict well. As a residence assistant on my hall in college—at the ripe age of 20—I can recall a few instances where I could’ve benefited from some training in conflict management. Guys on the hall didn’t always see eye to eye, and I didn’t always either.
My particular “go-to” conflict style is not avoidance, but it is for many. And, as it turns out, it is the default style for many millennials, as this Chicago Tribune article on millennial conflict in the workplace points out.
What does conflict avoidance look like? The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict assessment demonstrates that it is fundamentally sidestepping an issue. As a conflict mode, this style is both unassertive and uncooperative.
That may not sound like it could be at all positive, but avoidance as a conflict style is not a bad thing in and of itself. There are times when it is most advantageous to avoid a conflict entirely, such as when a confrontation will more than likely result in a losing scenario. An example? When your boss makes a passive-aggressive, snarky comment directed towards you in a team meeting, and it is clear that a retort would only make things worse. In this case, avoidance, at least in the moment, is probably the best way to go.
You might be thinking, “great, but what if ALL I DO is avoid conflict?” Well, then that is a challenge to overcome. How do you know if you’re a chronic avoider? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- “How much energy do I spend on avoiding conflict? How often do I sidestep an issue when the better play would be to face into it?”
- “To what extent do others tip-toe around me and try not to ruffle my feathers? How much do others see me as someone who cannot handle conflict and be real about complicated matters?”
- “How often do I find myself regretting the way an interaction turned out because I didn’t speak up for myself or someone else who is important to me?”
How do you handle conflict in your personal and professional life? What changes do you want to make to better handle conflict?