Understanding and Managing Conflict Styles

Businessman Wearing Boxing GlovesIn order to manage workplace conflict, it’s important to be able to understand and adjust to each situation and to the preferred conflict style of those involved.

Today’s post is by Cornelia Gamlem and Barbara Mitchell, co-authors of The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Everybody has a conflict style preference and knowing our own style preference and those of others can really help us manage workplace conflict. Here are the style definitions:

Competing attacks and likes to argue and debate. This type is competitive, assertive, and uncooperative, and can be threatening and intimidating, causing others to give in to avoid the argument. Competing means “standing up for your rights,” defending a position you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative, and is the complete opposite of competing. Accommodating may yield to another’s point of view or give even when h/she believes h/her ideas are better.

Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative and neither pursues h/her own concerns nor those of others. This type will not commit and is unsure where h/she stands on issues.

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative and takes a win-win stance in an attempt to work to find a solution that fully satisfies both people. This style approaches conflict with skill and balance, understands the value of positive conflict, and often acts as a mediator.

Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromise gives up more than competing but less than accommodating and is intimidated by direct confrontation. They look to gain consensus or seek a quick middle-ground solution.

Each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes and no one uses a single style of dealing with conflict. But certain people use some modes better than others and, therefore, tend to rely on those modes more heavily than others—whether because of temperament or practice.

Understanding your own preferred conflict style and the preferred conflict style of others can really help take some emotion and some personalization out of the conflict. When we understand conflict styles, we hopefully will stop thinking in terms of “I’m right and he’s wrong,” and take the actions of others less personally. Then we can use the energy we’d normally waste on trying to figure them out to creatively resolve the underlying issues of the dispute. We can also consciously choose to use a different conflict style when the situation demands it. But this takes practice to use a style that perhaps isn’t as comfortable for you as your preferred style. However, you can learn to use different styles effectively and it is worth it to try!

Once you understand your own preferred style of dealing with conflict, it helps to try and understand the people you work with and how they approach conflict. While it’s probably not a great idea to just ask them, if you listen carefully and observe your co-workers, you will probably be able to get a pretty good idea of their conflict mode. Once you’re armed with that knowledge (and remember, just like you, other people may use different conflict modes at different times), here are some ideas of how you can work successfully with a person using that particular conflict style or mode:

Competing: If you’re working with someone whose style preference is competing, take time to allow them to vent. You will want to be gracious while doing your best to discover what they fear. This is a good place for you to use reflecting listening skills and don’t forget that humor may go a long way in getting a competing person to relax and then be able to resolve the conflict.

Avoiding: If you’re working with someone whose style preference is avoiding, you will need to be direct and patient while you work to understand their position. You will need to be supportive and allow that person to feel as if they can confront you with their issue.

Compromising: If you’re working with someone whose style preference is compromising, active listening skills will be useful as you work to create a supportive environment where the person will feel comfortable. Try describing the impact of their behavior on the situation and allow them to feel as if they can confront you with the issue.

Accommodating: If you’re working with someone who is accommodating, you need to try and get them to open up on how they are feeling and what they fear. You need to monitor their energy level since they are susceptible to burnout. Your role is to solicit their input and their feedback because they probably won’t offer it willingly.

Collaborating: If you’re working with someone whose style preference is collaborating, you and others in your work group will probably learn early on to depend on them in conflict situations since they are skilled at resolving whatever comes up. Watch and learn from them in order to enhance your own abilities to deal with conflict.

Why is it so important to understand our own conflict style preference and the style preferences of those around us? Different styles lead to different approaches to how we relate to others and how we work together. These style preferences aren’t perfect or always accurate, but can be helpful as you work with others in your organization to resolve the conflicts that arise just because we’re human beings who think and act differently.

Essential Workplace Conflict HandbookCornelia Gamlem, SPHR and Barbara Mitchell are co-authors of The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook: A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager, Team Leader, HR Professional, or Anyone Who Wants to Resolve Disputes and Increase Productivity (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

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One Response to “Understanding and Managing Conflict Styles”

  1. Dave Howe says:

    I think there is a time, place and situation for each of these styles, (including avoiding), but it takes a sharp mind to consciously pick and choose which one is best for each situation. Perhaps the key is, as the ancient
    Greeks said, to “know thyself.”

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