Effective communicators are self aware people who are flexible in the ways they respond to threats. They know a variety of conflict styles and can use the appropriate style to match the needs of the situation. Depending on what is at stake, how important the relationship is with the other party, and how much you trust them, the style may differ.
According to Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann (1972), there are 5 different conflict styles. They are: avoidance, competition, compromise, accommodation and collaboration. Each of us has a primary style we prefer to use. Savvy conflict resolvers know how to use all five and in what situations it will get the best results.
The avoiding style is when you choose to avoid the conflict as a way of dealing with it. The goal may be to delay the conflict until it goes away. It is appropriate when the subject matter is of low importance and either there is no relationship with the other side or it isn’t important to preserve it. Sometimes avoiding a conflict and confronting it later is wise because tensions may reduce with time. The danger of conflict avoidance and when it is inappropriate is that tensions could also build and escalate over time as the problem worsens and spreads.
The competing style is when you stress your position over other points of view. It is also known as “hard bargaining”. The goal is to win. This style is appropriate when a quick decision needs to be made, when the issue is important or the stakes are high, and it won’t damage relationships or the issue is more important than the relationship. People in authority sometimes find themselves needing to use this style. The danger in the competing style is that it can lead to lack of feedback and it can increase tensions and resentment.
The compromising style is the classic “give a little, take a little” or split the difference. It is most appropriate when the parties are equally powerful and equally committed to opposing views. It is appropriate when the stakes are not so high that you can’t give up part of what you want. The danger in the compromising style is that it can lead to a loss of long term goals and can create cynicism in the relationship if overused.
The accommodating style is when you forego your concerns in order to meet the concerns of others. It is appropriate when the relationship concerns are primary and the stakes are not that high. Sometimes it is used when it is necessary to obey an authority even though you disagree or when you want to defer to another’s judgment. The danger in the accommodating style is that you don’t get what you need and resentment builds up over time.
The collaborating style is one of the most underused styles in our culture. A person who prefers this style is looking for a win-win solution. The goal is to combine insights to reach a richer understanding and a solution that is broad enough to satisfy both parties. The danger of overusing the collaborating style is that it can lead to spending too much time on trivial matters and to cynicism and frustration when a “quick” solution is not found. It is best used when the stakes are high and preserving the relationship is of high importance.
Knowing when to use what style is not easy and that is why most of us have a preferred style, and tend to stick with it even when it doesn’t yield the best results. Having the help of a third party mediator or receiving training in the different styles and an opportunity to practice them are both ways you can increase your ability to be an “omni-style” conflict resolver. ACDRS provides not only mediation but training customized to your workplace which includes administering assessments designed to help you discover your conflict style. Contact us for more details.
Dee Knapp, J.D.
Resolving conflict by creating conditions that work.