Approach-Approach vs Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict

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We are already practicing conflict daily, whether we like it or not. Not only is conflict impossible to get rid of, but it is an extraordinary place of possibility. Approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict both open a world of opportunity. Therefore, it’s essential to understand how to engage in them fully to ensure optimal growth.

According to Kurt Lewin, approach-approach conflict arises when you need to decide between two attractive opportunities. In comparison, avoidance-avoidance conflict involves two goals or decisions with negative valences. Both conflict types are intrapersonal and arise in a situation of indecision.

The actions you choose in a conflict situation, no matter how big or small, are entirely up to you – no one can control you or your decision. So, with the ball in your court, here’s the difference between approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict, including tips on handling these situations of indecision. 

Approach-Approach Conflict vs. Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict

Several decades ago, psychologist Kurt Lewin first conceptualized the primary categories of conflict, stating that an individual experiences conflict when two primary tendencies of the person’s behavior collide.

Lewin’s famous typology of conflicts splits into three primary types of behavioral conflict:

  1. Approach-approach conflict
  2. Approach-avoidance conflict
  3. Avoidance-avoidance conflict

Before comparing approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict, let’s briefly look at the term “conflict.” It is derived from confligere, a Latin word meaning “to engage” or “strike two things together simultaneously.”  

In simple terms, conflict refers to experiencing incompatible or opposing motives, goals, ideas, or actions. As a result, the arousal of these objectives cannot be solved together.

Approach-approach conflict and avoidance-avoidance conflict are both interpersonal, meaning within oneself. However, they create different outcomes and experiences.

The approach-approach conflict has two or more pleasant goals or outcomes you must decide between. This type of conflict is typically the easiest to resolve. 

In comparison, avoidance-avoidance conflict involves two goals or opportunities with negative valences. Therefore, avoidance-avoidance conflict can be more challenging to solve as both prospects are unappealing. 

What Is Approach-Approach Conflict?

Kurt Lewin, the psychologist who first conceptualized the three primary categories of conflict, termed approach-approach conflict as a situation of indecision between two positive outcomes.

Simply put, you have two or more goals, desires, or motives, and each sounds pleasant. The final decision is ultimately up to you – which one do you pursue?

Although positive, the approach-approach conflict remains “conflicting,” making it challenging to resolve the issue at hand.

Approach-approach conflict is typically resolved when a movement towards one of the desires or goals occurs. The movement eases and simplifies the final decision.

Approach-Approach Conflict Is Intrapersonal

Approach-approach conflict is an inward battle you encounter when you must choose between two equally desirable options or goals. As a result, you experience a moment of indecision from the positive yet conflicting goals or motives opposing one another.

One of life’s toughest challenges involves decision-making. Unfortunately, we can be indecisive even when both outcomes are rewarding.

Approach-approach conflict can be emotionally conflicting due to:

  • Procrastination
  • Lack of confidence
  • Fear of making the wrong choice
  • Perceived judgments
  • Perfectionistic tendencies

Approach-Approach Conflict Examples

Here are two examples of approach-approach conflict to help you identify when you experience this type of conflict situation:

Example 1

Your year-end bonus is finally reflected in your account, and you’ve decided to treat yourself to a new luxurious car. After browsing the internet for the latest luxury vehicles, you’ve narrowed your options between the Porsche Panamera and Bentley Continental GT.

Both cars are grand touring coupes, within your budget, and a real sight for sore eyes! The outcome is positive (to say the least) irrespective of your choice, but that doesn’t make the final decision any easier.

You may experience an external influence like the salesman motivating you to purchase the Bentley, but the ball is in your court – which luxury vehicle are you taking home?

Example 2

Imagine your family and best friend inviting you to go on holiday – you’ve hit the jackpot! Well, what if the holidays were booked for the same week?

Experiencing this moment of indecision is a form of approach-approach conflict. Both holidays are fun and rewarding, but you can only choose one.

The conflict can arise from the fear of disappointing one of the parties, regret, or FOMO, and indecisiveness regarding which one you think you’ll enjoy most. You might even secretly hope that one of the parties will cancel or postpone their getaway so you won’t have to decide between your family and friend.

What Is Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict?

Avoidance-avoidance conflict is a collision between one’s two main tendencies. However, both alternatives are equally undesirable and lead to adverse outcomes. Therefore, the choice can be compared to choosing between the “lesser of two evils.”

People often try to avoid (hence the name) making a decision while facing an avoidance-avoidance conflict situation because both outcomes are unattractive or unpleasant, irrespective of which one they choose. Avoidance is a typical coping mechanism we often fall victim to when facing challenging decisions. It “helps” us cope with anxious or depressive thoughts regarding the possible outcomes of either choice.

Avoidance often presents itself as procrastination. This is because it prevents you from making choices or partaking in certain situations, preventing negative feelings or outcomes. However, avoidance is only a short-term solution; you can’t avoid most decisions forever.

Avoidance or procrastination causes more significant problems by prolonging the inevitable. Eventually, you’ll have to decide between the two options you’ve been avoiding in a given situation.

Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict Is Intrapersonal

Like, approach-approach conflict, avoidance-avoidance conflict is intrapersonal. Only you control the final choice and act upon it despite external influence.

Avoidance-avoidance conflict is also emotionally conflicting due to fear, perceived judgment, procrastination, perfectionism, etc. As a result, you can avoid deciding to ward off the adverse outcome or experience for as long as possible.

Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict Examples

Here are two examples of avoidance-avoidance conflict for more clarity regarding this type of conflict situation:

Example 1

Your new boss invites you over for dinner. After dinner, his wife serves chocolate cake for dessert. However, you started a diet last week and are trying to achieve your goal of eating no sugar.

In this situation, both choices lead to undesirable alternatives. Refusing the chocolate cake may be offensive to your new boss and his wife, while succumbing and eating the dessert forces you to break your diet.

Even though you might experience external pressures (your boss’s reaction), the conflict happens internally. You are left with the final decision.

Example 2

You have been job hunting for quite a while now. After many unsuccessful applications, you finally get a prospective work proposal, but it’s a job you dislike with a lower salary than your previous one.

Your two choices are both negative; you can either take the job you dislike or stay unemployed. Both situations are repelling and can be influenced by fear, stress, perceived judgment, doubt, and the inability to choose which should have priority.

You can avoid conflict through procrastination, which may lead to greater pressure and stress. However, despite external influences like your spouse encouraging you to take the job, you are left with the final say. Will you take the job you dislike, or will you stay unemployed?

How To Resolve Approach-Approach and Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict?

Although conflict is a typical (and inevitable) part of our human experience, we often don’t give any critical thought to how we approach conflict, whether good or bad.

Each of us has a unique and personal style of engaging in conflict. Digging into your style can be enlightening and lead you to greater self-awareness. In addition, understanding your style of engaging in conflict can help you set new goals for personal growth.

Conflict is generally most destructive when it stems from an emotional response instead of constructive thinking. We become effective once we learn to manage conflict, not avoid it.

Whether the outcome is positive or negative, avoiding conflict may seem like the easiest and most comfortable option. However, regularly doing so can signal an underlying issue.

Individuals who regularly avoid conflict may suffer from depression or anxiety, making decision-making exceedingly tricky. These underlying conditions can make any decision overwhelming, causing the individual to avoid decision-making altogether.

Resolve conflict by:

  • The first step to resolving approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict is recognizing that the conflict exists.
  • Develop a sense of curiosity.
  • Next, weigh your options between the present choices.
  • Finally, make a well-informed decision.

Face Conflict Head-On Instead Of Avoiding It

Avoidance and procrastination may be the most comfortable and convenient route, but it doesn’t remove the conflict; it only delays it. So, we recommend facing both approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict head-on.

We often can’t change the two factors causing conflict; it can be where we live, our job, family, friends, etc. However, we can change what we do and how we resolve inner conflict, and we can do it in every instance.

Our approach to conflict isn’t part of our character or personality (even though it may feel like it). Instead, it’s something that we learned, and it’s drastically impacted by stress, norms, fears, self-doubt, perfectionism, and perceived judgment.

Therefore, you can choose to “unlearn” avoiding conflict and decision-making and learn to make well-informed decisions. It’s a matter of practice.

Approach Conflict With Curiosity

Like our bodies, our minds are plastic. So, every time we make a decision and act upon it, it becomes easier to repeat that action. Whatever you practice the most is what you end up “defaulting” in when the going gets tough.

So, try approaching approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict by developing curiosity in a difficult situation. While curiosity is a human characteristic, the ability to remain curious in conflicting situations is a skill that takes practice.

In approach-approach conflict, we desire both outcomes but fear choosing the wrong one. In avoidance-avoidance conflict, we typically want to step away from the choice because both are unappealing.

However, instead of stepping away, you should step in towards the conflict. Developing a mental stance of curiosity will help revert your attention away from fears, perceived judgments, and insecurities. Instead, it will enable you to listen and explore past the “avoidance factors,” allowing you to discover the real possibilities.

Robust, persistent curiosity is transformative. In the stress of conflict, curiosity will allow you to explore your goals and outcomes fully while helping you understand the importance of conflict. Curiosity allows you to change what you’re paying attention to by tuning you to what the goal and outcome are instead of getting stuck on the negative, dreaded aspect of the conflict.

The point is you should aim to develop a habit of remaining curious in conflict situations, whether the outcomes are positive or not. It will allow you to move away from secondary issues like fears, external opinions, or expectations and focus on what really matters, allowing approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict to become constructive instead of destructive.

Make A Final Decision And Follow Through

Finally, weigh your option and make an informed, final decision using creative thinking, complete perception, and divergent reasoning.

When making a final decision, your strategies and behaviors may differ when approaching approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict. You can be motivated and influenced by awareness, immediate environment, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and past experiences.

Successful intrapersonal conflict resolution will restore your inner world’s harmony. In addition, it will establish the unity of consciousness, giving you peace of mind and a more profound understanding of life.

Conflict resolution will differ based on the conflict type.

You can easily resolve approach-approach conflict by satisfying the more important goal.

However, avoidance-avoidance conflict is more complex. Since both outcomes are repelling, the individual will move towards one goal or outcome by rejecting the most repelling option.


While approach-approach conflict arises from two or more simultaneous attractive opportunities and avoidance-avoidance conflict involves two negative valences, both are tricky to resolve. Develop a sense of curiosity around conflict and stop focusing on secondary issues like fears, perceived judgment, doubt, etc. Instead, see both approach-approach and avoidance-avoidance conflict as positive and constructive.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, October). Approach-Approach vs Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict. Retrieved from

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