Conflict Resolution – Avoidance vs. Confrontation

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Personally, I see no problem with confrontation in moderation, but I see a massive problem associated with avoidance and more importantly, persistent avoidance wherever I go. Avoidance in this context is sidestepping matters and never really addressing them: constantly finding excuses to evade and never deal with an issue. So, the question this article will address is - “what can we do in the face of avoidance and persistent avoidance without making matters worse?”

For the purposes of this article let’s have two sides. on one side we have the confronter and on the other we have the avoider. I shall explore the ways in which conflicts can be explored through these two characterisations. 

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To sidestep confrontation, sometimes we think it’s best to apply avoidance tactics. However, to get around this, many think it’s a good idea to apply bullying by means of excessive and sustained pressure. Then, another problem occurs as avoidance is a perfect way of resisting bullying. Yet more avoidance can then be tackled with further bullying (possibly of a more intense degree), intimidation, domination, threats of consequences, and threats of violence, actual violence or tactical disengagement.

All of these measures can then be further resisted through yet further avoidance (some people are so stubborn!) which can then can convert into bullying from the side of the person that was sidestepping the confrontation to begin with - this being a method of retaliation! We have to then really think about how far each side will go when bullying from both sides escalates; we end up getting in to a complex problem.

At times the confronter can get sucked in to using avoidance tactics when more direct communication fails by the endless sidestepping that he or she is being met with. Using evasion tactics might make the confronter feel better but it ends up in the other party becoming even more bitter.

Sidestepping an issue can be aware or unaware: it is unaware avoidance that can be the most problematic because attempts by a confronter to expose that evasion are likely to result in unaware denial-based delusion or irrational argument.  Then, in this situation, if the confrontation is stepped up and is supplemented by more extreme forms of bullying, then the unaware denial-based delusion and/or irrational argument can become ever more entrenched creating a vicious circle of determined force meeting haplessly stubborn obstacle.

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Responding to Irrelevance

Many avoidance tactics, such as outright denial, cannot be challenged without making matters worse, but one weak link in an evader’s defences is the deflection tactic of introducing irrelevancies or “red herrings” and going off on unproductive or counterproductive tangents.

I suggest that in cases where a confronter detects irrelevancies in the evader’s arguments that the confronter refuses to engage with any argument that is based on those irrelevancies.  In such cases, the confronter could label the argument as “going off on a tangent” and request that the avoider come back to addressing confronter and the concerns more directly, unless the evader can demonstrate the relevance of the alleged “tangent”. If this tactic fails to quash the avoider’s tangential line of argument, then the only sensible response is for the confronter to disengage from the communication until the avoider has come to his or her senses enough to be able to listen and understand.

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Responding to Invalid Conclusions

In seemingly unproductive or counterproductive arguments, we can also usefully challenge other people’s invalid conclusions, but we should be very careful about how we go about doing this.

You see, the counterparty will come to invalid conclusions when he has misunderstood the confronter’s world-view, and this often happens because the avoider has not taken on board the confronter’s communication verbatim.  In other words, the confronter’s communication has been unconsciously “edited” to remove the realities that the evader cleverly doesn’t want to face—to accept as important parts of reality.

When the confronter realises that this may be happening, he or she can take the avoider back to the confronting communication that appears to have been “edited” and invite him or her to repeat back that communication word for word until he or she has received it word perfect. [This is a tactic I recommend when doing conflict resolution coaching]. If this “tactic” fails to deliver the much needed mutual understanding, then a truce should be called with the confronter refusing to engage with the avoider on any matter of contention until the confronter feels the points can now be received with better understanding. 

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Breakthrough via Understanding

This is one of the ways that could help the situation as typically, people who rely on aware or unaware character traits to avoid parts of reality can only hold one side of any argument in their minds. This means in cases where both parties have concerns, confronters should “park” their concerns (put them to one side) with a view to unpicking avoider’s concerns first.  Only when these concerns have been meaningfully addressed should a confronter go back to unpicking his or her own concerns and, even then, the confronter should go back to trying to understand their point of view every time new concerns. It’s only then that a confronter stands a chance of being understood enough so that mutual conclusions can be determined.

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These are tried and tested methods that could really help improve a conflict situation.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Martin Camden Business Coach, Career Coach, Love & Relationships Coach, Life Coach

The Right Relationships — Love & relationship counselling/coaching.The Right Success — Success & happiness coaching (and for complex problem-solving).The Right Life — “Landmark Education” coaching: freedom from y... Read more