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Conflict-resolution mode #2: Avoiding -- 'I'll think about it tomorrow'

An overview of one of five conflict-resolution modes -- avoidance -- and how and when to use it.

The following tip describes the avoidance conflict-resolution mode. Return to the main page for information on the other four modes and how to work with them to help keep your job. Brought to you by CONNECT: The Knowledge Network.

"Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the next day." The famous words of cartoon cat Garfield extol the virtues of procrastination, otherwise known as avoidance. Indeed, avoidance can be a highly useful tactic for navigating the modern-day enterprise, provided one doesn't indulge too often in the art of sidestepping.

We recently encountered a case of excessive avoidance involving a team of four data architects. A design they had recommended had been rejected by both developers and end-users, causing some hurt feelings and disappointment. They initially made an effort to communicate with their manager, who didn't seem to appreciate their concerns. They quickly began to feel misunderstood and unappreciated.

Over time, a rift opened between the team of architects and every other sub-team with which it worked. Although the four team members cooperated and collaborated with each other, they increasingly avoided their manager and just about everyone else outside their group. This chronic avoidance led to an acrimonious relationship between the four architects and everyone around them -- nobody wanted to work with them.

When the problem reached senior management, we were brought in to facilitate. During our interviews with each architect, it became clear that they chose avoidance by default: They hadn't considered other options seriously enough; they gave in too easily. Upon reflection, they realized that by reaching out to their manager and their end-users, by being more proactive and persistent, they could better explain the nature of their work, and thus come to better consensus about how to accomplish specific goals. They recognized the manner in which they were already cooperating with each other, and began working to extend that spirit of cooperation beyond their team.


Ideal uses:

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) notes that avoidance is characterized by low assertiveness and low cooperation. Following are some ideal uses of avoidance:

  • Trivial matters -- When more pressing issues abound, avoidance should be considered. Prioritization is key in any work environment, and since few people ever have enough time to do everything, there are some tasks that simply must be dropped or delayed.
  • Reducing tensions -- Avoidance can reduce tensions in the workplace. When tensions are high, sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone and wait for a more appropriate time to raise an issue.
  • Buying time -- A classic use of avoidance is for buying time. If you need more time to work on a project or consider an option, avoiding someone or something can give you the added days, hours or even minutes to finish something important.
  • Turf issues -- We sometimes find ourselves championing a cause that's not directly related to our own role. In such cases, avoidance should be exercised so others can take ownership of their own causes or projects. This prevents a potentially troublesome "middle man" or "triangle" scenario.
  • Symptomatic issues -- Occasionally, problems that arise are actually symptomatic of deeper issues. In such cases, it's wise to focus energy on the root problem, instead of addressing only symptoms.


Excessive usage:

Many people overuse the avoiding mode because they think it saves them time or energy. Others avoid excessively because they just don't like conflict, or are otherwise afraid to take risks. The dangers of overusing the avoiding mode include:

  • Minimal influence -- By failing to voice your opinions, you greatly limit any impact you may have on the direction of a project or company. Worst-case scenario, you may ultimately be considered unnecessary and consequently relieved of duties.
  • Default decisions -- By avoiding certain issues too long or too often, you increase the possibility that decisions will be made for you. Such decisions will rarely be optimal for you.
  • Issues fester -- A stitch in time saves nine, says the old expression. Avoidance of critical issues will invariably result in long-term problems. In an absence of direct communication, hostile stereotypes may also develop, adversely affecting the work environment.
  • Cautious climate -- Too much avoidance can be contagious, resulting in an atmosphere devoid of candid dialogue.


Insufficient usage:

Detail-oriented people sometimes have difficulty using the avoidance mode due to guilt or sense of duty. Others may fear that any avoidance of responsibility might jeopardize their position. However, underuse of avoiding can cause problems, including:

  • Hurt feelings -- Too much direct communication can result in feelings being hurt. People may consider you too nosy or rude, resulting in workplace discord.
  • Work overload -- By embracing every conflict that arises, you're likely to overstuff your plate. You can easily wind up overstressed without sufficient energy or time to take care of pressing matters.
  • Delegation stagnation -- If you champion a disproportionate number of causes, you may be depriving others of the opportunity to lead. People naturally crave challenge, so too much ambition on your part can actually hinder the development of optimal solutions by others.


Necessary skills:

Avoiding may seem easy at first blush, but effective avoidance does require skills, such as:

  • Sidestepping -- Effective avoidance requires a sixth sense for loaded questions, and a complementary ability to dodge them. Diplomacy is paramount.
  • Timing -- Knowing when to postpone a conversation or meeting is also crucial, as is the ability to sense pauses in dialogue.
  • Patience -- Avoidance requires that you have the patience and the stomach to let issues remain unresolved, sometimes indefinitely.
  • Elusiveness -- You must also know when and how to withdraw from potentially dangerous situations, a skill that requires both grace and foresight.

Return to the main page for information on the other four conflict-resolution modes and how to work with them to help keep your job.


About the authors: Maureen Clarry and Kelly Gilmore Dignan are co-owners of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network.

CONNECT is the only company that uses a workforce effectiveness approach called Human Performance Optimization™, to connect their clients with the best Information Technology consultants to solve specific business problems. CONNECT optimizes IT personnel performance through management consulting and training around organizational issues related to IT.

CONNECT was featured in The Data Warehousing Institute's (TDWI ) Best of Business Intelligence 2003 for an article entitled, "Predictable Pitfalls, Paths to Partnership." CONNECT is on the faculty of TDWI and teaches regularly on leadership issues related to data warehousing. Other TDWI publications authored by CONNECT include: "10 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Data Warehouse Team, 10 mistakes to avoid when choosing a data warehousing consultant and How to choose a data warehousing consultant. CONNECT also participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for The Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

CONNECT was recognized as the 2000 South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, and has been listed in the Top 100 Women Owned Businesses, the Top 250 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado, and by the Denver Business Journal as one of Denver's Forty Under 40 Business Leaders.

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