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Approach-Avoidance Conflict: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is…
  • 0:44 Finding the Equilibrium
  • 1:13 Examples
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Johns

Ashley has taught college business courses and has a master's degree in management.

You've been presented with an amazing opportunity. However, you quickly realize that with the opportunity comes some sort of sacrifice. This makes the decision-making process difficult. This lesson discusses the resulting conflict and its impact on your decisions.

What Is Approach-Avoidance Conflict?

Every decision you make comes with some sort of conflict. There may be other appealing options, advantages and disadvantages, or nothing positive about a given choice. In the decision-making process, psychologists have discovered three types of conflict: approach-approach, approach-avoidance, and avoidance-avoidance. In this lesson, we will discuss the approach-avoidance conflict.

Approach-avoidance conflict occurs when an individual is faced with a decision to pursue or avoid something that has advantages and disadvantages. This form of conflict involves only one goal. The name comes from the advantages of the goal making the person want to approach the goal and the disadvantages making him or her want to avoid it.

Finding the Equilibrium

This type of conflict is known to cause stress. People go back and forth trying to make a decision. They are trying to find their equilibrium point where they are about to accept both the advantages and disadvantages, no matter the final decision. As the person nears the goal they feel a pull from the disadvantage side. This leads the person to avoid the goal. As the person starts to pull away, they feel the pull from the advantage side to approach the goal. The person eventually reaches their equilibrium point.

Examples

Let's look at a couple examples of the approach-avoidance conflict in action.

Your boss recently approached you and offered you a promotion. How exciting! The new position comes with a $10,000 raise and a new title. However, you also learn that you will be required to work an additional ten hours per week and travel out of town one weekend per month. Now you have conflict going on in your mind. You aren't sure what to do.

There are both advantages and disadvantages involved in this single goal. You start thinking about the disadvantages and avoid making the decision. You go back and forth until you meet your equilibrium point and make a final decision.

Here's another example: one of the perks of your job is the opportunity to be reimbursed for college credits you earn while working there. College is expensive. This is a great opportunity to earn a degree with minimal debt. Plus, if you get the degree, you'll have more opportunity for advancement in the company. It is not all positive, though. Taking on classes while you are working will involve dedication and organization. You'll have to be willing to give up your evenings for studying. Plus, your company has a policy that you must work there for a minimum of one year after you complete the courses, or you will have to pay the company back. Can you commit to that?

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