In order to better understand conflict, it is helpful to recognize the different styles of conflict management. Everyone uses all the styles, but we tend to have our favorites based on personality, life experiences, and situational factors. In addition, any conflict may require the use of several conflict styles as the conflict moves forward. One of the keys to getting better at conflict is recognizing which style is needed given the circumstances and how to work on the styles you feel least comfortable engaging.
The avoiding style tries hard to avoid conflict at all costs. Avoiders do so by changing the subject, denying the conflict exists, engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, or distracting themselves and others from the conflict. Continually avoiding conflict sets the stage for resentment and bitterness, which can lead to the eventual disintegration of a relationship. However, sometimes avoiding conflict is the best choice. If tempers are elevated or if the potential outcomes of engaging in conflict do not outweigh the efforts it may be best to just let it go.
The competing style sees conflict as a win-lose scenario and engages conflict with the intent to win. Engaging in a competing style can create perceptions of aggression and rigidness. When the investment in the relationship is minimal, the competing style may be best to get quick and decisive results. If the relationship is important, engaging the competing style could create resentment or make one person seem like a bully.
Often seen as the opposite of competing, accommodating could be viewed as the lose-win scenario. People engage in accommodating when the relationship with the other is more important than the outcome of the conflict. Unfortunately, if accommodating is your preferred style you may ignore your own personal needs, which can lead to resentment and even stress-related health issues.
A compromising style is a ” give to get” type of conflict style. People engaging in this type of conflict style will let go of some of their goals in order to find a resolution, particularly when the final goal is flexible for them. Again, if we are always compromising we may eventually become resentful of always giving something up.
A collaborating style is the most time-consuming and exhausting of the conflict styles, but also potentially the most rewarding. It requires those involved to try to reach the best possible conflict solution for all those involved. It is time-consuming because each party needs time and space to be able to express their perspectives, needs, and desired outcomes. This style is most often beneficial in long-term relationships or in situations where the relationship needs to be fortified. It often leads to strong, more vibrant relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
Want to know what your preferred conflict style? The United States Institute of Peace has a free assessment at the following link: https://www.usip.org/public-education/students/conflict-styles-assessment
Be sure to check out the next post on conflict goals.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Hocker, J.L., & Wilmot, W.W. (2018). Interpersonal Conflict. 10th Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
United States Institute of Peace (n.d.). Conflict Styles Assessment. Retrieved from https://www.usip.org/public-education/students/conflict-styles-assessment