Scissors Paper Rock – Dealing with Avoidance

At a recent Negotiation Skills course I ran, some of the group wanted to know more about how to deal effectively with the “Avoiding” conflict mode. The following day I played scissors, paper, rock and made the connection – every conflict mode has a mode that can “beat” it. Avoiding “beats” Competing because it doesn’t allow Competing to ‘win’, just as Competing usually ‘wins’ over Accommodating, because Accommodating gives in too quickly or for the sake of the relationship. For more information on the TKI conflict modes, check out the Kilmann website.

It took few weeks longer to make the obvious connection, even though I have been preaching the technique for years – starting co-operatively means Accommodating can ‘win over Avoiding (in the positive sense of winning over).  Accommodating just needs a bit of patience.

Two examples make this obvious. One example is a client I’ll call Mary, who told me she had been “pushing” hard for many months to get a major intermediary to take up the company’s online offering. The tactics displayed by the intermediary were the signs of avoiding – not answering calls, not giving a definitive answer, deferring to other managers etc. and the more frustrated Mary got the more she pushed, but the more her intermediary avoided – a typical lose-lose scenario.

I suggested that a better way to get a result was to start co-operatively before being assertive and Mary agreed that she would try and start co-operatively at the meeting scheduled the following day, mainly because nothing else had worked. We crafted an opening sentence, something along the lines of “I want to make this work for both of us, so I would like to get a better understanding of what you see as the issues that are making it hard for you to take up our online system”.

Well you can guess what happened. Mary was more co-operative and her intermediary was also more willing to discuss the issues their firm had with the shift to the online environment. Mary and the firm went into collaboration mode and within a few weeks Mary had the agreement that had eluded her for nearly six months.

The second example is from “The King” – the telemovie about pioneering TV host Graham Kennedy. According to the telemovie, when Kennedy didn’t get what he wanted – support from his bosses – he engaged in classic avoiding mode, walking out on the industry for nearly two years, so that both he and his employers “lost”.

One of the bosses with whom he had clashed, eventually came over to his place and started with co-operative comments – complimenting him and acknowledging his unique talent, where previously this executive had criticized his style. It’s unclear whether the boss was accessing accommodating mode or whether it came naturally to him, but he was sincere enough to woo Kennedy back to TV as host of Blankety Blanks. And the rest is history – Blankety Blanks became one of the most successful game shows in Australia.

So the solution for dealing with avoiding behaviour is co-operation, explaining and demonstrating that you do want to help / work with the other person to find a mutual solution.

Compliments are also key – where possible finding something about the other person that you admire, but make sure it’s sincere – Australians have very sensitive bull**** detectors.

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