One of the biggest challenges a leader will face is mediating or resolving his/her own conflicts with others. They say knowledge is power, and so I wonder if you know, dear reader, that there are actually five different ways people do and can approach conflict.
This post discusses these five conflict styles along with a few summary tips for more effective conflict management.
Let’s start with the easiest to understand: avoiding. Those who avoid conflict disengage and try to have nothing to do with it. They shut down and withdraw. Listen for things like, “I don’t really care if we work this out,” or “I’m fine with the way things are.” Avoiding conflict is usually not a problem in minor matters but avoiding dealing with major conflicts or issues can create even more major conflicts and issues down the road.
Those who accommodate give up their goals for others’ goals. They may do this because they are uncomfortable fighting for what they want, or because they value the relationship and don’t want to hurt the other person, among other possible reasons. Listen for things like, “If it’s important to you, it’s fine with me,” or even a simple, “let’s just do it your way.” On issues that you truly don’t have a strong opinion, accommodating can be an effective give and take strategy, but if it’s used perpetually, you may begin to feel like your interests don’t matter.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the person who fights to get his/her way at the expense of everyone else. This one can be sneaky because these people are often not as overtly assertive as we might expect. Listen for things like, “If we come back again to my idea,” or “The best way is probably to…” in addition to the more aggressive versions. Constantly seeking selfish interest can damage relationships and lead to isolation, but this strategy can be very effective in situations where the person has a strong moral or ethical objection to the issue.
Ah, the gold standard of conflict resolution: the compromise. Little does anyone ever notice that the great compromise is really just all parties giving up something of equal value. Perhaps not so attractive in that light! Listen for things like, “Maybe we can both just give a little,” or the rather obvious, “What if we compromise?” If both parties have things that aren’t very important they are willing to give up, a compromise is a great solution. Just don’t expect it to satisfy all parties.
Collaborating is what most people think compromise actually is. Collaborating is seeking a mutually beneficial or “win-win” solution. In fixed resource conflicts, it’s looking for ways to “expand the pie” so that all parties can have some. Listen for things like challenging points and arguments, but NOT attacking people, along with active listening and attempts at problem solving that incorporate the other party’s goals. Collaboration, while not a magic and perfect solution, is best in most conflict situations, as long as both parties are willing to engage in good faith effort.
Which Is Best?
Like most human behavioral elements, there is no one best style. Collaborating might have a slight edge, but even it is not always perfect or appropriate. However, every individual has a default style. Think about yourself, your key team members, your family, and so on. Which style above is most common for each of those people?
The key to choosing the effective approach is to first understand the other party’s style (or all parties’ styles if you are the “mediator”) and adapt your approach from there. It’s also important to note that individuals are likely to respond with the same style they see exhibited to them. So, if you take a “forcing” approach, the other party is likely to do the same. Finally, keep in mind that with all influence and persuasion attempts, most people will use the style or tactic that works best on themselves…hardly the most effective approach to influencing someone else!
Five conflict styles, and the importance of understanding that every person you meet and engage with will have a default style. Where can you apply this information today to resolving a conflict in your life or on your team?
“Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.”
― Horace Mann
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