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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Why Do We Avoid Potential Conflict?

A milestone this week. We’ve often said to our daughter that what she learns is far more important than the grades she gets. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, grades matter. Metrics matter. Results matter. But the emphasis and on the lesson learned today often leads to higher achievement tomorrow.

As a high school freshman, our daughter has had her ups and downs, highs and lows. She has struggled with significant anxiety, especially in new situations. Earlier in the school year, a missed assignment or a missed class often led to a downward spiral of events, making the hole that she needed to climb out of deeper and wider. From the outside looking in, it was easy to say “had you just said something several weeks ago”, but if I am being honest, that just doesn’t happen to high school freshman, I think we all experience that.

I know I do.

In my daughter’s case, we are very fortunate that she is in a program with teachers and administrators that care. Several recognized the issues right away and extended a helping hand. Others, we spoke with, but once they realized both her potential and her challenges, they modified their approach. Over the last several weeks, we have seen significant progress on many fronts, most importantly seeing a growth in her self-confidence. Then, there was this “one class”. The teacher is very tenured, very traditional, and very strict. This week, when my daughter froze while being asked a question, this teacher interpreted it as “disrespectful” and in her extended hand wasn’t help or support, instead it was a detention slip. Which caused our daughter to slip for the rest of the day, questioning the progress she had made.

Damn it.

Mom and I weighed both sides, coming to a general, but not totally aligned perspective. We reached out to the teacher, and determined fault on both sides, as is often the case. Believing the teacher was likely “immovable”, we coached our daughter to take responsibility for what she could and should and adapt to what this teacher was expecting and do her best. We explained that just because a person is in a position of authority, it does not always make them right, and this was one of those cases, but that she would face this her entire life. And we do.

Now. Listen to this.

The detention was to be served during lunch, which she intended to do, attempted to do, then froze. She came home, talked to her mom about her struggle, then the girl who communicates by SMS and Instagram only sat down and wrote her teacher an email. A rather lengthy email. Explaining her side of the story, with respect. Admitting her faults and challenges. While letting the teacher know that she wanted to her side of the story as well. She didn’t post nasty memes on social, or badmouth the teacher, but faced the conflict head on. When the teacher didn’t answer her email (she hadn’t seen it), our daughter approached her at lunch, and walked the halls with her as the teacher admitted she had experienced the same struggles growing up. The detention slip in the teacher’s extended hand was exchanged with an offer to help.

Yes. I will admit. I was stunned and extremely proud.

Especially because in everyday life, I see times where we face a challenging situation, a challenging individual, and instead of facing the conflict, we seek to avoid it. Work around it. Even reduce the situation to a point where we mock or “badmouth” the individual or team within a smaller group, never addressing the situation head on. As a leader, I have been guilty of pulling larger groups together to discuss “concerns”, rather than face and discuss those concerns head on with those who may be causing the issues. The truth is, this rarely works.

Often times we avoid conflict because we don’t want to face the reality that in fact, we have a shared responsibility with what has taken place. We fall into the trap of seeking to explain our point of view, rather than seeking to understand the other side. We avoid conflict on a specific issue for so long that when it finally comes to a head, we fill the deep hole with all of the other issues that we have been storing up for so long, that nothing productive can come from it.

Not every situation works out the way my daughter’s did this week. The teacher may in fact have been rigid and immovable, but it was worth the effort that my daughter made regardless of the outcome. And if we face potential conflict in a healthy, respectful and direct manner, we may just avoid some of the deeper holes that we eventually have to deal with if we don’t.

Have a fantastic day! Go challenge yourself! (You can follow me @rhoniball or connect with me at And I am typically writing this during my second cup of coffee, so if you see a mistake, let me know! Hahahaha...)


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