Conflict Resolution with a Conflict Avoidant Person

When I give my presentation on Productive Conflict™ I am often asked how to engage someone who is avoiding a problem.  

Avoiding a problem usually takes one of two forms:

1.    Refusing to have the conversation

When someone won’t discuss a problem with you it is often because they are uncomfortable with difficult conversations and would rather ignore the problem. It could also be that they are embarrassed. To start the conversation it is important to bring the issue into the open. Try these tips:

  • Know what you want to talk about and don’t bring it up until you can do so without attacking or blaming.
  • In private say something like, “It seems like you aren’t comfortable discussing xyz issue.”  Then be silent and let them respond.  
  • Actively listen to their concerns, ideas and feelings. Find tips to do that effectively here
  • Assure them you aren’t interested in the conversation turning into something ugly or shaming them, you just want to work it out.
  • Make sure you are responding with your brain, not your ego (I share my ego’s response to a disagreement here)
  • If you can’t reach an agreement, agree to continue to think about solutions and schedule time to discuss it again.
  • If they cancel or no-show you may need to get an authority figure involved (boss, coach, parent, etc) or if you are the authority change the conversation to have a disciplinary tone.

2.    Agreeing with you and then continuing to do exactly the same thing

There is little that is more frustrating than thinking you have an issue resolved only to discover later that you are mistaken. When I work with clients who are having this issue I ask them to evaluate the “agreement” discussion or to play it back for me as they remember it. What seemed like agreement might be one party bullying the other into the “right” answer or an unfinished conversation. After assessing how the other person might have perceived the previous conversation, you might approach them with one of the following opening comments:

  • I think we might have had different ideas about the outcome of our last conversation and I’d like to revisit it.
  • I felt like we agreed to xyz the last time we talked but that doesn’t seem to be happening.  Can you help me understand what is going on?
  • I feel like I’ve been lied to.

I have put these in order of less confrontation to more. Choose the one that best fits your situation. However, make sure you are in a good place before you approach the person. Never go in with a chip on your shoulder or a sneer in your voice. The conversation simply won’t end well if you do.

On rare occasions you may have to deal with someone who is narcissistic and/or who pathologically lies. I hope these cases are few and far between for you. When you encounter a person like that, there is no win/win option. They are always going to do what is best for them with no remorse for the damage or discomfort it causes you. Your only option is to learn from the situation, cut your losses and discontinue all association with that person.

As a reminder, any time you want to have a productive conversation, make sure you are ready to have it before you initiate it. You may even want to rehearse it with a trusted friend or your coach first so you have your thoughts in order and you have a chance to work through any frustration you might be feeling about the person.

As always, I wish you the most from your potential!

Doc Robyn

PS - If you are interested in recognizing and monetizing your talent, stepping into your potential and taking responsibility for your success, I'd be happy to have a conversation with you about how I can support you.

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known motivational speaker, executive coach and corporate trainer. As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence by sharing active leadership, powerful teamwork, conscious communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time. To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, please call 302-307-3091 or email her at

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