Avoiding conflict does not mean one avoids conflict ??!!

I recently had an “ah ha” moment about “avoiding” conflict.  With 30 years experience as a mediator, attorney and currently as the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds, I think a lot about how people deal with conflict. According to research in the dispute resolution field, the most popular means of addressing conflicts is to avoid them.  Avoiding is sometimes a very good idea if its a small issue and not that important to you or taking some time to cool off is in order; however, its often not a good choice in the workplace where avoiding something can snowball into something much larger.

This was my first thought after a recent discussion with a visitor to the ombuds office. I heard a repeated statement from the visitor – “My supervisor/department head/ director (you name it) was contacted by person X, told aldjlfjakkhjkhkjh, and took action without talking to me!!!????%%%.” This idea of taking information from one perspective and acting on it is something I’ve heard from multiple visitors and, as a result, I encourage decision-makers at all levels of the university to obtain information from multiple perspectives before making decisions.  Hearing one perspective and then deciding seems like it is addressing the conflict; however, here’s where the “ah ha” moment showed up.

The reality is that when a decision-maker takes action only on one input, I now believe it is actually an effort to avoid dealing with the conflict. Yes – something is being done so it doesn’t really seem like “avoiding” yet by not gathering more information, it turns out that the conflict is not dealt with even while the decision attempts to address it.  This is why people show up at the ombuds office – the one sided decision (from their perspective) does not resolve the issue.  In fact, it sometimes escalates it to more people and then even more input is needed.

So the next time a decision is made without multiple inputs/perspectives, consider whether you might actually be avoiding the problem.  And, if you want or need help and not sure where to go – Go Ombuds!