Tempers flared, curious onlookers were quiet, and eyes flashed daggers at me as she walked past. I asked, “What?” and her heated response was, “You want to get into this now?” and I said, “Yes!”
Unfortunately, she didn’t and said as much as she stormed out of the room. Was I right to want the confrontation at that point, or should I consider avoiding it or postponing it?
There are times when we need to be direct and have our confrontations, times when avoidance is the answer, and there are times when we need to postpone the confrontation to a different time and place. The tricky part is deciding which one you should do.
This article will address when you should avoid confrontation altogether. In the following two articles, you’ll learn when to postpone and when to deal with the issue head-on at the moment.
Avoidance is the easiest to do and, sadly, the most popular, although not always the correct choice. Many of us struggle to know what to say, and we panic and say nothing in the midst of the conflict. We avoid the situation for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. If you are like me, you lay awake in the middle of the night, rethinking the situation and coming up with the perfect solution. Perfect, except you won’t get that moment again to say or do the right thing.
Avoidance IS the correct answer at times. There are times when conflict happens that we don’t need to say or do anything. Don’t feel bad if you avoid confrontation in these times:
– The first time it happens. Naturally, this depends on the situation. For instance, if I’m at the photocopier and a colleague walks away, leaving the copier jammed or empty of paper, is this enough of a situation to have a confrontation about? For me, the first time it happens, I will assume positive intent and assume you didn’t realize it was jammed or empty. I’m taking the high road and won’t confront you about it. However, if this is the second or third time you’ve done it, I might directly discuss it with you.
Because this is a “it depends” type of situation, there are many things I will directly confront with you the first time they happen. That is our individual decision based on the consequences of the behaviour. To me, there are few consequences from leaving the photocopier empty or jammed. However, there are consequences for you to yell at me, belittle me, or embarrass me, so the first time those situations happen, I am less likely to avoid them.
– When the relationship is more important than the situation. Assume you have a high value placed on the relationship, such as your executive, spouse, or best friend. There are times when avoiding the situation is the best answer in the long term.
One of my best friends lied to me recently. I caught her in the lie, yet I chose not to point it out. She has no idea I caught either, as I avoided the confrontation. In my mind, it was childish that she couldn’t tell me the truth in the first place, but for some reason, she felt she needed to lie to me. To preserve the relationship, I didn’t let her know that I knew she wasn’t telling me the truth. I avoided the conversation as the relationship is more important than the little lie I was being told.
Will I always avoid dealing with people when they lie? Absolutely not. It depends on the lie, and it depends on the relationship. We need to know where our boundaries are so we don’t assume that avoiding confrontation when people lie is the right approach.
– It’s an innocent misunderstanding. Above, I mentioned, “assume positive intent.” I’ll assume you didn’t know the photocopier was empty. I’ll assume some things are innocent misunderstandings and avoid them.
Recently, on our group vacation with six other friends, they went to the nightclub after dinner. Warren and I didn’t know they were all going and went to our room instead. When I found out they all partied the night away without us, my feelings were hurt as they didn’t include us in their plans.
While sharing the evening the following day, I said I didn’t know they were all going to the nightclub as we would have gladly joined them. They all professed they assumed another had told us, and we decided to have a quiet night instead.
I perceive that as an innocent misunderstanding. I could have challenged them on feeling left out. I chose not to confront them as this fell into the category of an innocent misunderstanding.
– Mistakes made are not always misunderstanding as above. Sometimes, we are human, and we mess up. If you mess up at work, does that mean we always need to have a confrontation about it? Not in my opinion.
If we agree to meet for lunch and you never show up, I could have a confrontation about how that made me feel. However, if you tell me that you had written it in your agenda for the wrong day and totally forgot, it is a mistake and not a deliberate slight to me.
Deadlines often fall in the category of mistakes or innocent misunderstandings, and a confrontation isn’t always necessary. You might get angry or feel they are doing things deliberately to make you look bad, but we all are human, and we need to give people permission to be less than perfect from time to time and not make a big deal out of it.
Having a conversation or confrontation about the situation isn’t always the right thing to do. Sometimes, it is best to look the other way, not take it personally, and let it be water under the bridge.
However, just because you aren’t prepared doesn’t make the situation worth avoiding. Look at the situation, ask yourself how it makes you feel, and what the consequences of addressing it are versus avoiding the confrontation.
Don’t justify your behavior; instead, make a choice that is right for you. Stay tuned for next week when we discuss when we should postpone our confrontation and more about the “right” answer on the first example I shared when I was willing to have the confrontation, and she wasn’t! Was I right?