It sounds counter intuitive, but Inaction or avoidance can be a viable way of dealing with workplace conflict.
When I teach introductory classes about managing conflict, I usually have students take a conflict styles inventory. Learning about your own style and finding out that other people may favor different approaches can help you deal with others more effectively and without taking it personally. The goal of my classes, always, is to help students expand their conflict management toolkit, understanding that different approaches to conflict may be effective at different times, in different situations, and with different people.
One of the approaches in some of the conflict inventories is “avoiding” (along with competing, collaborating, compromising, and accommodating).
Like many of my students and clients, you may rely too much on avoiding, because you don’t have any other tools with which to navigate a disagreement. The problem is– if there is an ongoing issue or situation that repeats or persists, resentments build up and avoidance tends to lead to an eventual confrontation.
Impelled to take any action
But some of my clients, and myself at times, instead of being inclined to avoid, feel a deep compelling inner pressure to do something, anything, to resolve the problem. Often these actions, rather than being strategic, actually make things worse. We don’t realize that there are times when avoidance is a useful strategy.
When does inaction or avoidance make sense?
Avoiding makes sense if, for example, you have had the same difficult conversation with someone repeatedly, or have witnessed other people having the same conversation with them. Or if your connection with them is tangential and it isn’t worth the energy of preparing for a difficult conversation, avoidance could be your best option.
How can you use avoidance successfully?
Avoidance can be a successful strategy only if you take crucial inner action—you have to let go.
If you are grumbling and continually resentful inside about what they did or said, if you keep telling yourself or others the same bad story about them over and over, either your negative feelings will leak out in passive-aggressive ways such as in sarcasm, snide remarks or hostile gossip behind the person’s back. Or, your resentment will build and build until you have to let it out. In both cases, the result could well be an explosion.
So how can you let go?
Here are some suggestions my clients and I have found helpful:
- Be honest with yourself about what you are feeling. Don’t judge yourself for it.
- Find a safe way to vent such as with close friends or by writing an angry letter that you have no intention of sharing.
- Replace your negative story with a neutral or, better yet, positive one, remembering that most likely they aren’t doing it to you, but for themselves or out of their own story.
- Give yourself a big hug.
- Send positive thoughts to the other person.
- Be persistent with these steps.
You can sometimes change your relationship with a difficult person and improve your communication through avoidance if you are willing also to release and change your attitude, your thinking, and your feelings about them.