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MCLEOD: 3 mistaken beliefs about conflict and how to overcome them

Are you a conflict avoider?

Nobody likes conflict, but avoiding conflict usually winds up being even more painful than addressing it.

If you work or live with a conflict-avoider, or you're one yourself, you've probably experienced the cost of conflict avoidance.

By avoiding any possible confrontation, conflict-avoiders often find themselves continually trapped in conflict because they fail to address the root causes. While you, or they, are avoiding, the issue keeps growing. It never gets solved because they're unwilling to risk the potential discomfort of a disagreement.

Conflict avoidance is a few common incorrect beliefs. Here are three of the most common mistaken beliefs about conflict and how you can overcome them.

Mistaken belief No. 1 -- Conflict is bad.

Differing points of view don't always have to get ugly. Managed correctly, differing perspectives can produce great results.

For example, I was working with a health care client to create a purpose statement. One group wanted it to be just facts; the other group was emphatic, their purpose statement should be emotional. After a creative, messy afternoon we wound up with a great combination: We bring health and hope to patients. The process wasn't easy. People even argued. But they argued because they cared. The result of their differing perspectives is something everyone is proud of.

Mistaken belief No. 2 -- Other people's opinions are unchangeable.

Conflict avoiders often say, "There's no point bringing it up, because he won't listen." Unless you've tried to discuss it, and been rejected a few times, this is a total cop out.

Conflict avoiders tend to believe that other people's opinions are fixed. But how many times have you changed your own mind about something?

If you want to influence someone else's thinking, you don't start off saying, "I disagree, you're wrong." You start slower. You ask them to explain their perspective, then you say something like, "I've had different experiences with this." Or "Can I share some additional information?" It doesn't have to be a big scary confrontation.

Recently my husband disagreed with me about how to handle a situation with our daughter. I can be controlling, so going up against my ideas isn't easy. But when he shared his perspective I changed my mind immediately. Sometimes people are more flexible than you might think.

Mistaken belief No. 3 -- A fight will destroy your relationship.

A friend of mine had long-standing issues with her in-laws. For years, she gritted her teeth, giving in on everything from vacations to whether the kids should open gifts on Christmas Eve. Then, one day she'd had enough. Her father-in-law made one too many sarcastic comments and she exploded.

To the rest of the family it seemed like she way overreacted to a single comment. But to her, the blow-up was the culmination of years of avoidance.

After the dust settled and she was able to voice her concerns calmly, the relationships changed, for the better. The tip-toeing stopped, and they could relate to each other without gritting their teeth.

Conflict avoiders often believe that they're being "the nice guy" by not voicing their concerns. But it's not nice, because it's not honest. You don't avoid the anger; you just avoid dealing with it.

If you're facing a potential conflict, take a breath, and don't worry, it's not fatal.

Fighting isn't the worst thing in the world. But avoiding conflict can cost you plenty.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, consultant and the best-selling author of "The Triangle of Truth." Sign up for her newsletter at www.TriangleofTruth.com.