conflict avoider blog

Effective Ways to Approach a Conflict-Avoider without Running Them Off

Have you ever been afraid to approach someone because you know that their ego is super sensitive? Not that you’ve had any serious conflicts with this individual (yet), but in the few years that you’ve known them, you have observed that every close relationship this person has had – either with close friends or a significant other – has fallen off. We are not talking about acquaintances here, but close chums with whom this individual has stayed in touch every single day. When you dig a little deeper, you find out that the reason why they no longer stay in touch is that their buddies tried to confront this person but he or she no longer wants anything to do with them. You hear your friend vaguely describe the nature of his or her conflict with these estranged relationships, and it sounds strikingly similar to the problem you want to address with your friend. The issue makes you want to scream and pull your hair out but you are more afraid of losing your friend, now that you see their pattern of withdrawal and avoidance when conflict arises. What do you do?

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Fragile: Handle with Care and Understanding

Depending on how close you are to this person, you might know your friend’s family dynamics and gain insight into their personality. Individuals who have grown up in households where substance abuse, alcoholism, significant criticism, anger and/or depression were prevalent are likely to develop hypersensitivity to criticism in relationships when they reach adulthood (Marron, 2014). Was your friend often insulted and humiliated by family members? How is his or her relationship with family members now? Knowledge about your friend’s familial past will give you clues about the state of his or her emotional well-being.

Observe Your Friend’s Habits

Does your friend often turn to alcohol to deal with stress? If you’re not sure, think about all the times you have hung out with this person. Can you remember a time when he or she did not have a drink in hand? In addition to a bad upbringing which induced shame and low self-esteem, alcohol only weakens the person’s ability to handle stress and conflict. For the time being, a drink may help them relax, but in the long run, frequently resorting to alcohol will result in alcohol dependency and lead to other health problems, not to mention stunt emotional growth.

Don’t end the sentence with “We need to talk.”

When checking our voicemails or talking on the phone, the last thing we want to hear is, “We need to talk.” If we are emotionally healthy, that phrase may send some shivers up our spine, but we can muster the courage to deal with it head-on by agreeing to have that difficult conversation the next time we see that person. For the more sensitive individual, that phrase is like a death sentence and he or she will do whatever it takes to avoid the hard conversations. They may lag in their response to your text or phone call or not return your messages at all. The more you try to get in touch with them, the further you push them away. Instead of saying, “We need to talk,” try to set up a time to hang out and emphasize quality one-on-one time so that your friend doesn’t invite anyone else along.

Avoid expletives and extreme/absolute language.

Before you unleash your anger and frustration directly on the offender, make sure you let out the steam with someone else (without name-dropping so that you’re not throwing anyone under the bus). Regulate your own emotions so that you can speak in a calm tone of voice with non-reactive language. Name calling and using absolute language like “you always do this” or “you never do that for me” puts the other person on defense and is counterproductive to what you’re trying to accomplish. Rather than coming across in an accusatory tone, open up the conversation with, “Hey, I was just wondering, is there anything I can do to be a better friend to you?” With this question, you are essentially taking responsibility for your own actions first, which may have contributed to the other person’s offensive behavior.

Sandwich with Love, Confrontation, and Love

It’s all in the tone of your delivery. Remembering all the good times you had with this person helps to defuse the ticking bomb inside you as you saturate your language with reassurance and comfort. Let the other person know how much you appreciate and value their relationship. If they know how much they mean to you, they will be more receptive to what you have to say, if you say it in a gentle and calm way. Make their actions, not who they are, as a point of reference. “When you did/said this, it made me feel angry/sad/disappointed, etc. because _________.” That sounds much better than “you don’t care about me! It’s always about you and you never take my feelings into consideration!” Be ready with two or three examples to illustrate your point, and speak in a non-reactive tone. End the night on a positive note.

At Your Wits’ End?

Have you tried all of the above and nothing seems to be working? If your friend or loved one is not responding to anything you’re saying, despite your attempts to solve the problem and save the relationship, these may be symptoms of a personality disorder which is characteristic of individuals struggling with substance use disorders. Evidence-based methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy have been proven to help people identify negative thoughts that lead to relationally destructive behaviors. Your loved one may need additional assistance from an experienced clinician to deal with deeper, underlying issues beyond your control. If you see signs of alcohol and/or drug abuse, talk to an interventionist at New Method Wellness, a premier dual diagnosis treatment center which has received national recognition on Dr. Phil.

Seeking help for a loved one? Call 866.951.1824 to speak with our Outreach Coordinator!

Marron, G. (2014). Conflict avoidance. Retrieved from
United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Alcohol Alert. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 34 (4). Retrieved from