WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Staying with Conflict by Bernard S. Mayer

With all our Conflict Leadership Group conversations about avoidance last month, I went back to this book because it has some really useful content about avoidance. Here are some of the key points about avoidance Mayer discusses in this book.

People are endlessly inventive in how they avoid conflict. Sometimes avoiding conflict is wise and essential, not all conflict can be safely or productively approached. Sometimes nothing good will come from engagement, sometimes conflict needs to be avoided, or at least the timing of engaging conflict needs to be carefully thought through.

Nine different reasons people might choose avoidance:

1. Fear (for consequences for relationships, reputation, self image, identity, emotional well being, physical safety).
2. Hopelessness (you’re pessimistic that there’s any chance of anything improving, so why bother to get started?)
3. Uncertainty and uncertainty of outcome.
4. Energy conservation.
5. Systems or relationship preservation.
6. Powerlessness.
7. Shame or embarrassment. (Acknowledging conflict is the first step to engagement but acknowledging the conflict may be shameful for that person or their public image or showing public emotion, e.g. losing your temper in public, may show a side of yourself that you may prefer to keep hidden.)
8. Feeling that you have inadequate skills to engage.
9. Resource depletion. (You don’t have the time, fortitude, support or energy to engage).

Ways that people typically avoid conflict engagement:
• Minimizing. (e.g. They’re saying it’s not worth engaging because it’s not worth it. It’s not a big enough issue.)
• Misdirection. (e.g. They’re saying it’s not about you, it’s about the money we’re losing, but deep down it is actually personal)
• Escalation. (e.g. You get aggressive as a way of shutting it down, scaring others away from engaging).
• Pre-mature problem solving. (e.g. you jump to a quick fix, or fix the wrong problem, not what’s actually underlying the conflict).

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