Avoiding Conflict: You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

Avoiding Conflict: You Can Run, But You Can't Hide Stephanie Dean, LPC, CEAP, Assistant Manager at WLC, discusses the challenges and consequences of conflict and how conflict can sometimes be "good" for us.

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Janet McCutchen: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Janet McCutchen with Work/Life Connections. I am here today with my good friend and colleague, Stephanie Dean, who is one of the EAP counselors and the Assistant Manager here at Work/Life Connections-EAP. Today Stephanie, we are going to talk about conflict, more specifically avoiding conflict, and the title of our Wellcast is “Conflict Avoidance: You Can Run but You Can’t Hide.” So, talk about this. So, we have conflict as part of life, right? Stephanie Dean: Conflict is part of life. It is going to be one of those things. It is going to come into your relationships, good/bad, and work/home. It is a fact of life, and sometimes, avoiding conflict can be okay. Other times, there are consequences to avoiding conflict that may not work out so well for you in the long term. Janet McCutchen: So, we tend to think of conflict though about being something negative, something awful. Don’t we? Stephanie Dean: Right, we tend to think that if we are in conflict that one of us is wrong, one of us is right, that we have to defend ourselves if there is conflict, and really often times that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, we just disagree, and it does not necessarily have to cause problems in relationship. Actually, growth can come from conflicts that get resolved, and you do not hear as much about that as you do what people see is the negative side of conflict. Janet McCutchen: We know too such as the title of our Wellcast today that avoiding conflict is a common theme, and we often find that it really depends on the situation whether or not we feel inclined to engage in conflict. Don’t we? Stephanie Dean: Yes, some people have a tendency to avoid conflict regardless of the situation. However, most of us pick and choose those times. Do I avoid it when it is a big deal because I am too upset to deal with it at that moment? Do I avoid it because maybe in the grand scheme of things it just does not matter enough to raise the level and bring it up and talk about it? Janet McCutchen: So in and of itself in avoiding conflict it may be the right thing to do given the circumstances, right? If you may say something off the top of your head, you might regret or what have you. So, we know it is more kind of situation specific in terms of probably also what is the proper way to address conflict or to bring it up. Stephanie Dean: Right and I think that is where people get stuck. It is not so easy to bring up difficult things to talk about, and so, if it is something that we think is easy to talk about, then we might be more likely to bring it up. If it feels more difficult or if we are not sure how to say it or if it is for somebody that we were not particularly comfortable with anyway, we are less inclined to bring it up. Janet McCutchen: So, we may, for example, find it easier to engage in conflict or to bring up difficult topics with a family member, then maybe our boss or our coworker? Stephanie Dean: You are right. Your family hopefully is going to be there even if and when you have a bad day. Sometimes, work is harder because we spend as much time at work than we do with our family and then there is often a power differential. I may not say something to my boss that I might say to a peer because you have to think about what the consequence is of attacking that head on or bringing that up might be. Janet McCutchen: Exactly right. So, we know that there are consequences. A lot of times, we build that up in our heads. I think as probably part of that avoidance, but we also know that there is something that happens if we do not engage in conflict too if we do not bring up those difficult topics. We often think what is best to not say anything, but there is a cost to avoiding conflict. Isn’t there? Stephanie Dean: Well, yes, I think there are several consequences, but I think what we often see is that people who avoid conflict over a particular situation over a long period of time, it is stressful to hold that in over time and I think sometimes people begin to feel resentful that they have not either been able to handle it themselves or that someone has not read their mind to see that they are upset and sometimes you can see people who seemingly out of the blue react to something very small when actually they have been mad about something for 6 months and you just have not known it. So, there are a lots of way it can sort of come back although like in any other conflict management style there are times and is also really useful. So, it is about knowing your audience and knowing yourself and being unable to pick and choose what is the right way to handle it in that moment. Janet McCutchen: So, it really is situation specific, and also, talk a little bit about the ways to gain skills around the conflict or conflict management or expression of conflict. Stephanie Dean: The way to get better at dealing with conflict is the way we get better at just to about everything else, which is practice. If assertiveness is not a skill you have, the good news is it is a skill and you can learn it. So, you can learn how to make I statements and say I feel this way. You can learn to practice a conservation with somebody you trust beforehand so you can get a little more comfortable when you have to go and talk to the person you are upset with. So, I think Work/Life Connections is a great place to come in and have those conversations, do that practice, and then take it out into the world and feel more confident about your ability to handle conflict or manage conflict in a way that you feel good about. Janet McCutchen: Right. So, we know that you can run but you cannot hide because it is certainly either exploding or get on one end of the continuum or holding in over a long period of time. Neither is really good for us. So, we need to learn how to become a little more certain and more appropriate. Stephanie Dean: And you feel better. Janet McCutchen: To say the least because there is a downside to walking around with all of that, just holding all that as we know. Stephanie Dean: Exactly. Janet McCutchen: Well, we have certainly given our listeners a taste of some of the coaching and counseling opportunities that we provide here at Work/Life Connections and indeed we can all run but we cannot ultimately hide from life because life is full of all kinds of conflict situations and I appreciate your time today. Stephanie Dean: Thank you. Janet McCutchen: Thank you. If our listeners might need some additional coaching, you are more than welcome to call us. Thanks again. Janet McCutchen: Thanks for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast by clicking the “Add New Comment” link at the bottom of this page. If you have a story or suggestion, please email it to us at health.wellness@vanderbilt.edu or you can use the “Contact Us” link on our website at healthandwellness.vanderbilt.edu. Thanks for listening. -- end of recording (07:14) --