Who really likes conflict? Isn’t avoiding conflict whenever possible an honorable goal? Except what happens when there really are conflicting perspectives- how does resolution happen? If you choose to avoid conflict rather than advocate for your point of view, or at least make sure it’s heard, what happens then? Probably your perspective may not get considered, and, when decisions are made favoring another viewpoint, you may feel disappointed, even resentful. Consider all the energy and time wasted by avoiding some conversation about this conflict…
This is the domain of the Avoider, one of the Saboteurs I often see showing up in me. In Part One of this series I described the Positive Intelligence© framework. As with all Saboteurs, the Avoider overuses and abuses actual strengths that, when used appropriately, make the person the beautiful being they are. Strengths of people with the Avoider include seeking peace and harmony, both internally and with others. These people can go with the flow, feeling calm in stressful situations in ways that make others feel better. They typically are optimistic, expecting that something good is likely to happen in whatever situation they find themselves in. And they avoid judging others, choosing instead to find some positive attribute in almost everyone.
I can recall experiencing this kind of calm leadership when I was still a med student. Our team was re-rounding at the end of our day on a patient who was dying of throat cancer. Earlier in the day, when he was coughing up some blood, the ENT docs following him told us that his tumor was sitting on his carotid artery and there was no treatment available. As our resident led us into the room the patient sat up in bed, opened his mouth, and blood began to pour out. I began to run around like a chicken without a head, asking if I should call the blood bank or anything else.
My resident said to me and the team, “Calm down,” and to the nurse said, “Please give me 3 vials of morphine.” He injected one vial after another while the patient, who had been awake while he was bleeding to death, gradually closed his eyes and died. I’m not sure I ever witnessed a better example of being able to be calm in a crisis and act in the best interest of a patient.
A situation that frustrates many clinicians caring for patients in Intensive Care Units that involves the Avoider is the patient who is at the end of their life as a result of a progressive, fatal illness who is on life support AND has never been engaged in conversation about what care they wanted when their illness got to this point. People who have the Avoider are conflict averse to an extreme, using procrastination to Avoid dealing with challenging, potentially unpleasant tasks. This kind of conversation is not easy or quick, and many physicians choose to Avoid it, saying things to themselves like, “They’re not ready for this yet- I don’t want to take away their hope. There’s more that we can do.” So, what happens? The conversation never takes place, decisions get made that are more comfortable and easier (like “do everything”). Meanwhile patients and families suffer, clinicians experience moral distress, and the physician with the Avoider, somewhere deep inside himself, may be beating himself up, saying “You SHOULD have talked to her about this!” Nobody benefits, everyone is harmed with this kind of Avoidance.
If you feel you often have your Avoider showing up, there are ways to intercept it and make different, better decisions through mental fitness. Tasks and conversations that are being avoided don’t need to feel “hard.” They can actually be viewed as opportunities and gifts- as ways to learn and grow, to become stronger in some way. The “mental muscles” that one uses and strengthens by tackling and completing a challenge that your Avoider would have wanted you to Avoid makes you equipped for even more difficult challenges in the future.