Most of the times you do not want conflict to go unaddressed. It is your job as a leader to ensure that your team engages in healthy and productive conflict and to make sure that conflict is not ignored. After all desperately hoping that an issue will just go away is a great way to turn a small issue into a gigantic problem!
Then why is avoiding conflict is one of the recognized modes of conflict resolution as defined by the TKI or Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument? Well like it or not some people do prefer to handle conflict by not handling conflict (or avoiding conflict) AND there are absolutely times when the smart choice is to avoid conflict.
When would you ever consciously choose to avoid conflict? An obvious situation is if you are faced by a physically threatening situation. Sometimes it is best to back down and live to see another day.
Conflict avoidance might also be a form of diplomacy. Consider these situations:
- The issue at hand is trivial and it really is more important to move on to other things.
- You have absolutely no chance of satisfying your concerns and you have no absolutely no power in the situation. An example of this would be trying to take on your management team over the company dress code.
- The costs of confronting the conflict outweigh the benefits of the resolution. Perhaps you have heard the expression, choose your battles wisely?
- People need some time to cool off from a tense situation. This is a temporary avoidance of the conflict, once people cool off, you will need to move forward.
- To gather more information and then reconvene. This is also a temporary avoidance of the conflict. You are not letting it go completely; you are just waiting until you have better information to use to resolve the conflict.
- You are not the right person to resolve the conflict; there are others who can resolve the conflict more effectively. This means you avoid the conflict, it does not mean that the conflict is not going to be resolved.
The key to conflict avoidance is to know what types of issues can be left unresolved, what types of issues need a cooling down period and what types of issues do not require your intervention.