Sometimes very successful, intelligent people have difficulty navigating conflict at home and at work. As children they learned that staying quiet and not expressing what they needed was more effective than arguing or speaking out. Staying quiet and avoiding conflict developed into the personality trait known as agreeableness, which was rewarded by parents and teachers.
As adults, agreeableness and conflict avoidance seemed to serve them well. The path of least resistance became a meaningful and worthy goal. People enjoyed working with them and they were successful professionally. They married partners who were either domineering or agreeable. Initially these relationships appeared to work.
People who are agreeable overcommit to work and personal requests, agree to things they dislike or do not want to do, and at times feel exploited and taken advantage of by others. They can also feel very lonely. Feelings of irritability and passive aggressive behavior plague them at times. Resentment also develops toward people and organizations perceived as domineering or controlling. Lying and withholding information becomes a way to set limits. Engaging in solitary hobbies or activities becomes a way to re-energize.
Overcoming the cycle of conflict avoidance is very difficult without professional support. People who are conflict avoidant experience anxiety saying no to requests, offering differing opinions, or dealing with disagreements. When I’ve worked with clients who struggle with conflict avoidance, I coach them on interpersonal effectiveness skills.
Here is a snap shot of some of the communication strategies I teach my clients. Please note additional training in emotion regulation and distress tolerance are critical to effectively implementing these strategies.
When making a request or expressing your point of view, manage the communication in the following way:
Stay Mindful: Keep your focus on your goals and objectives. Maintain your position. Don’t get distracted or taken off course.
“Broken Record” Keep asking, saying no, or expressing your opinion over and over and over. Keep your voice calm and even while doing this.
Ignore: If another person attacks, threatens, or tries to change the subject, Ignore the threats, comments, or attempts to divert you. Don’t respond to attacks. Ignore distractions. Just keep making your point.
Appear Confident: Appear EFFECTIVE and competent. Use a confident voice tone and physical manner; make good eye contact. No stammering, whispering, staring at the floor, retreating, saying “I’m not sure,” etc.
Negotiate: Be willing to GIVE to GET. Offer and ask for alternative solutions to the problem. Reduce your request. Maintain no, but offer to do something else or to solve the problem another way. Focus on what will work.
Turn the tables: Turn the problem over to the other person. Ask for alternative solutions: “What do you think we should do?” “I’m not able to say yes, and you seem to really want me to. What can we do here?” “How can we solve this problem?”
Contact me: If you would like coaching on how to overcome conflict avoidance, please contact me through my website to schedule an appointment.