If you can think and talk, and if you ever come in contact with other people, there is the potential for conflict. Conflict is an inevitable, completely normal part of the human condition, yet most people readily admit that they intentionally avoid anything that even remotely resembles disagreement or confrontation. In fact, much of my work in relational counseling and coaching involves helping people to understand – and even embrace – the value of conflict and overcome the fears that feed their aversion.
There are a number factors that can influence conflict avoidance, such as self-doubt, lack of assertiveness, inadequate communication skills, fear of rejection, disapproval, criticism, loss of security and more. In other words, people avoid conflict in order to minimize perceived threats to their self-esteem and sense of well-being.
Let me be clear – I’m all for avoiding real danger and I never recommend that anyone intentionally subject themselves to hostile conflict or confrontations that present a threat to their safety. But I do advocate learning the difference between actual danger and personal discomfort and then developing the courage and skill necessary to approach everything from mild disagreement to vigorous debate.
Overcoming the fear of discomfort due to conflict is important for three primary reasons:
First, conflict avoidance often leads to emotional suppression. When we bury our emotions we always “bury them alive” which means they can fester and show up when we least expect it, often causing us and others unnecessary pain. It’s not uncommon for people to use “letting it go this time” as a cover for conflict avoidance. If the frustration hasn’t really been resolved, it could blow up as an over-reaction later.
The second reason is that avoidance of conflict reinforces irrational fear. For example, “If I address this concern I’ll be rejected, hurt, or criticized,” or, “I’ll look foolish and feel humiliated if I speak up.” Although you can experience hurt feelings or embarrassment, the truth is they won’t destroy or devastate you like you fear they may. The best way to overcome irrational fears is by facing them, doing the best you can to negotiate the conflict and then give yourself an honest assessment of how well you handled it. Each time you go through this process, you gain skill, experience and confidence, which leads me to my third point:
By avoiding conflict you miss out on opportunities for growth. Growth always involves change, and even positive changes often involve some level of tension and discomfort. To choose to avoid conflict is to choose personal stagnation – the opposite of growth.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where confrontation is needed or where conflict arises, remember that it’s worth the effort to solve the problem and achieve the solution, and you will come out stronger each time you succeed. You have nothing to fear but Fear itself!
Live, Work and Relate Well!