Even if you choose to avoid for the right reasons, what you actually say to people just before you withdraw from the situation does make a difference. Different people handle it in different ways. One person might avoid a conflict by expressing himself this way: “I’ve had enough of this nonsense! I’m not going to waste any more of my time. I’m out of here.” Another person may take this approach: “I’ve just realized I need more time to think about this topic and discuss these issues with my colleagues. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Let’s set up another meeting for next week. By then, I’ll be ready to address the matter.”
The person in the first instance of avoiding would probably come across as insensitive, condescending, and even demeaning. Because of the manner in which he left the situation, the other people involved might feel hurt or abandoned.
The person in the second instance shows regard for the other people in the conflict situation. Although he is still withdrawing, it’s more likely that everyone concerned will have an easier time understanding and accepting his avoiding behavior because the reasons for it have been explained to them.
Essentially, which conflict mode you choose and how you then use it are two very different things! Let’s consider the same principle applied to collaborating. One person may choose to express her desire for collaboration this way: “We have to discuss these issues! You have no choice! I’m tired of superficial solutions that aren’t based on our joint needs. If you don’t sit down and share your deepest concerns with me, I’ll no longer support your priorities in the workplace.”
Another person may express herself like this: “I really need your help. I’ve been very frustrated with our previous decisions, which haven’t seemed to address our most important needs. I’d like to share with you what matters most to me. And then, if you are willing, I’d really like to hear your most important concerns. Maybe we can figure out how to change the situation for both our sakes. Let’s give it a try.”
Based on basic TKI definitions, both individuals are using the collaborating mode. In the first instance, the attempt to collaborate will probably come across as bullying. Perhaps this is not the best way to elicit an open and candid dialogue about important and complex issues. In the second instance, the attempt to collaborate is more inviting— one that will likely engender mutual respect and a genuine exchange of ideas. In the end, the second approach will lead to a more creative solution, while the first approach will put the other people on the defensive and shut down a conversation that is sorely needed.
Bottom line: Choosing a mode wisely and using that mode in the most constructive way possible will go far in producing the best resolution possible—rather than generating bad feelings and a disappointing outcome.
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