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Why We Avoid Dealing with Conflict

People often have many fears around engaging in direct dialogue with others about conflict. We all have our own history of experience with conflict that was first formed in our family and expanded at school and in the workplace. For some of us conflict may:

  • have largely involved displays of anger, with yelling and insults – an experience you want to avoid,
  • appear to be an inevitable part of the human condition; that conflict is never productively resolved, or
  • involve pursuing what we want as vigorously as possible, as that is the only way to get what you need.

The following fears or responses to conflict are common:

  • What if talking about it makes it worse, rather than better?
  • What if he doesn’t listen to me?
  • What if he/she yells at me?
  • Why stir up trouble?  It will probably resolve itself on its own.

Negotiating openly with others around what we want and need is not modeled or encouraged in our society.

 “It takes courage to honestly and clearly articulate your needs, and
it takes courage to sit down and listen to your adversaries.

It takes courage to look at your own role in the dispute, and
it takes courage to approach others with a sense of empathy, openness and respect for their perspective.”iii

It is not surprising that direct discussion with the other party is often not considered until other options have proved unsuccessful or the conflict becomes intolerable.iv   So while the avoidance of direct discussion is understandable, the effective management of conflict in the workplace requires us to overcome our discomfort and learn to discuss differences directly.