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April 20, 2012

Is Avoiding Conflict Really Helping You? The Cost Of Ducking

IStock_00silencemallMany people struggle with conflict.  Some bully their way through conflict, while others duck to avoid conflict at all cost.  Although there have been tons of information about the pitfalls of bullying and rage on relationships, often people forget about the pitfalls of ducking from hard issues.  They frequently believe that because ducking avoids a fight, it’s a healthy choice to make in response to conflict.  They couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Contrary to popular belief, ducking is anything but a good response to conflict in relationships.  Ducking can take on many different forms and is an equal opportunity response to conflict -- both men and women duck.  People can duck by getting silent and refusing to speak about an issue.  They can duck by becoming passive-aggressive and indirectly complaining without ever directly addressing the issue.  They can change the subject, shut the conversation down, placate, over-accommodate or pretend they’re okay with an issue only to later complain about it under their breath.  They can lie and say everything is fine, smile instead of frown and pretend rather than be real.  The truth is, there are probably countless ways to duck when it comes to conflict.  Not surprisingly, however, regardless of which approach we use, ducking is not helpful


Ducking is avoiding and whenever we avoid something we leave it room to grow.  Seldom do issues disappear because we ignore them.  In fact, more often than not, the more we ignore, the bigger the issue becomes. 

Below are some of the costs of ducking: 

1.   You fail to resolve any problems.  Although this is stating the obvious, we absolutely cannot resolve issues if we refuse to talk about them.  Our refusal to discuss one issue then creates another issue—anger about the refusal to discuss the issue.  Eventually the mound of issues left in our conflict-avoidant wake becomes too heavy for even the strongest of persons to carry.

2.   You set up either an implosion or explosion of emotions.  When we continually let things go, eventually they build up until we either implode with depression, helplessness and low self-esteem or we explode with rage.  Neither of these two reactions serves relationships or us.  Unspoken upset has to go somewhere.

3.    An increase in resentment.  Avoiding conflict at all costs means we are not addressing a lot of things that upset us.  It is only a matter of time before we begin to simmer about these issues—especially since they will likely show up again and again.  Eventually we grow tired of the same issues, get annoyed and with each unspoken word, a new resentment is formed.  Over time, the resentments build and begin to rot out the relationship.

4.    You give others a set of dangerous operating instructions.  When we duck to keep another person calm, we teach them that what they are doing is okay.  We teach them that all they have to do to get what they want is to get big in some way and we will let the issue go.  We end up training others to shut us down.

5.    You set up a toxic legacy with the next generation.  As we cower, silence and duck, we teach our children to do the same.  They will repeat this behavior, not only with us, but with most people in their lives—including their significant others  -- when it’s their turn to start a family, career or relationship.

6.    A dangerous self message gets sent.  When we stay silent to others’ poor treatment, it send the message that we are not worthy of speaking up for.  If we send that message enough times—we learn to believe it. 

Ducking is like throwing yourself under the bus time and time again. 

 The next time you duck and say to yourself, “Whew, I dodged that fight!” you might want to ask yourself at what cost.  Avoiding a conflict simply creates a different kind of conflict.  Learn to speak up and have your back.  You deserve it and so do those around you.

Challenge: If you tend to avoid conflict, it’s time to rethink the costs of this decision. Start to pay attention to all the times you duck and to what happens to you internally and over time as a result.


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