Conflict Styles, Five Ways for Managing Conflict
Styles to adopt to get the outcome you seek
Now you know what kind of outcome – in terms of both the outcome and the relationship (see ‘The Conflict Outcomes Matrix’ article) – you are looking for the question now is how can you manage the conflict in the most appropriate way? There are five main styles that can be adopted, and these are shown below.
The Five Ways by which to Manage Conflict
The two axes here contrast:
- the importance of the task and its importance to you (task/self); if it is low then you behave in an unassertive way, and if it is high then you are assertive;
- the importance of the relationship and others to you (relationship/other); if it is low then you behave in an uncooperative way, and if it is high then you are cooperative.
- Competing: Here people know what they want, and they are usually operating from a position of power. Although this can be useful when there is an emergency and a fast decision is needed, it can alienate people when used in less urgent situations.
- Collaborative: Here people try to meet the needs of everyone involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike when competing, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when you need to coalesce a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.
- Compromising: Here people try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something including the compromise. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill or when there is a deadline looming.
- Accommodating: Here people are willing to meet the needs of others at the expense of their own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. An accommodating strategy is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave.
- Avoiding: People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However, in many situations, this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.
Understanding these different styles helps you to determine which style is most appropriate when looking at the outcome you want to gain.
Key Learning: Consider your instinctive conflict style. How does this help you to achieve your outcome or not? What do you need to change your style and how you behave? Ideally, you want to adopt a suitable approach for the situation, which will resolve the underlying issue, will meet others legitimate interests, and build strong relationships.
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