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Episode 190: Conflict Avoidance

Conflict Avoidance

Conflict avoidance can be about big things and small things. It's why people split up over text rather than actually deal with the relationship problem face to face. And if you've ever had a huge sense of relief if you ring someone about a problem and their phone goes to voicemail, you'll know what I mean.
I often find that the secret to making things less of a conflict is to make sure that you're both on the same page. So that rather than seeing them as an enemy, you phrase everything you say as if you both have the same goal. In couples counselling its often called Unified Detachment and the same process can be applied everywhere.
What this does is reframe the problem so that instead of it being "You vs Them" it becomes "The two of you vs The problem." Of course every situation is different but it could be as simple as just saying. "We've been arguing more than is fair lately, what do you think we could do to prevent it? Because when we don't argue things are so great between us?" Even if the other person just shrugs and says "I dunno" at least the difficult conversation isn't an attack on THEM, it's tackling the problem. Which increases the likelihood of some calm discussions about how to fix it.
In a lot of situations it can be hard to see common ground though, and you might have to dig a bit for it, especially with workplace disagreements. But hopefully you both have the same end goal at work of wanting a project to work, or wanting the company to be a success. So including the other person in the conflict is really important but obviously it needs to be done politely and respectfully. Make sure you ask them their opinion, sharing the influence over the issue with them to come up with solutions even if all you're doing is saying "Hey, I noticed you've not had chance to finish the weekly report you do, again. There's obviously some other work thats taken priority and slowing you down. What do you think could move so that this doesn't happen again next week?" You're acknowledging the problem but without blame.

Don't think of it as a competition though. You're not trying to win an argument by telling your housemate off for eating your Pot Noodle. Anyone can win an argument by shouting and making the other person run off in tears. But to win against the problem, both people have to win, and that means not going in all guns blazing with "You ate my pot noodle you git!" or even worse "We need to talk." Because what that actually means is "We need to talk about you and how crap you are." And the other person is automatically on the defence.
No good ever came from starting a conversation with "We need to talk." Whereas “I need your help with something. Do you have a minute?” Can start things off far better. You're not blaming them for anything and they're not blaming you.

In many situations you can shift the blame away from both of you and onto your position. With something like "As your boss, it's my job to have to look out for you." That sort of thing.
"As your parent it's my job to worry about you"
"As your therapist, it's my job to encourage you to talk about difficult things."

You want to both be on the same page, and so you need to agree. Like getting kids to do their homework, you both need the same agenda. Saying "I know you want to play Among Us but you have to do your homework, so turn it off in 5 minutes please." Could lead to a typical teenage strop. So be on their side by avoiding the word BUT. Say AND instead.

"I know you want to play Among Us AND you have to do your homework, so turn it off in 5 minutes please." Is more supportive.

It can be hard to be on someone else's side sometimes, especially if they feel attacked because they could be defensive and angry and we need to stay calm in those sorts of situations. When that happens, dont interrupt. Listen to them, let them talk.

If you've got to talk to someone about their son bullying yours of course they're going to be defensive, no one wants their kid to be thought of as a bully, so you might need to take a few deep breaths and wait. Then validate what they've said and remind them of your shared goal of making the children happy, with them either becoming friends again or taking a breather from each other. But agree with them.
If you put all these things together you get a sentence like "I’m sorry if I’m coming across as labelling them a bully, I can see how that would be upsetting and I’m not here to do that. What I'd like is to figure out, with you, how we can team up to help the kids get along or take a break from each other if they have to."

The thing is if you have a lifelong habit of avoiding conflict then this might take some time to learn. It's a skill, a life skill. But if you start off with one or two of these approaches you can soon build a repertoire that means you'll never avoid conflict because you'll be good at having genuinely productive conversations with people.
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