When you find yourself in conflict, you may discover that you tend to participate in a certain way – you may try to avoid the conflict, you may try to ‘win’ the conflict or you may accommodate the other person’s interests so much so that your own remain unaddressed.
These tendencies are called conflict styles and they depict the motivational orientations of an individual during a conflict. These styles include avoiding, competing, accommodating, compromising and collaborating. If you’re curious what your default style is, there are many self-assessment tools, including this one.
There is no ‘right’ conflict style, instead we want to work to increase our capacity to engage in conflict with the most effective strategy for a given strategy. We will explore each style next.
The avoiding conflict style involves suppressing or concealing feelings and concerns that may lead to conflict. This strategy tends to prolong the problem and can leave problems unaddressed and unresolved. However, it also doesn’t escalate conflict and may serve to postpone difficulties until a more opportune time.
Avoiding is best used when:
The competing conflict style is characterized as pursuing one’s own demands, wants or claims at the expense of the other. Often, this produces a win-lose outcome, and may breed hostility among those involved. However, it tends to be quick and goal oriented.
Competing is best used when:
The accommodating conflict style is the tendency, at your own expense, to surrender to the other person’s demands or wants. It involves accepting the other’s views and going along with proposals that satisfy the other person’s interests. This style can breed resentment and exploit those without power. But, by giving up a personal goal you may preserve the relationship.
Accommodating is best used when:
The compromising conflict style seeks an outcome that partly satisfies each party’s demands or wants. Both (or all) parties give up a little to get a little and no one gets exactly what they want. Unfortunately, this often means that no one is every fully satisfied and less than optimal solutions get implemented. However, it can be an important approach when dealing with complex issues without simple solutions and all parties are in equal power.
Compromising is best used when:
The collaborating conflict style is a balance between asserting and expressing your own interests, while seeking to understand and respond constructively to the other person’s interests. This strategy tends to be very time and energy consuming, but can create mutual trust, maintain positive relationships and build commitments.
Collaborating is best used when:
As you can see, there are times when each of the conflict styles may be appropriate to put into use. Increasing one’s conflict competence hinges on being self-aware of our own tendencies, while working to build our capacity in other styles.
If you’re interested in how to build your conflict capacity, contact us today to learn more about how conflict coaching could help you!