Inevitably, as you communicate with others, conflict will arise. Even as you strive to listen well, choose the right medium, and anticipate barriers to communication, we are fallible people using fallible tools, and so we will sometimes mess up.
Knowing that conflict will arise, what should you do about it?
There are five conflict resolution styles, and each of us are more naturally bent towards one or two of them. Knowing the different styles will help you understand your tendencies and assist you in seeking out a new resolution style depending on the situation.
You can view this conflict resolution style like the boxer who is ready to fight. In this scenario, there is a winner and a loser at the end of the argument.
This strategy is good in high-stakes situations. There are some things worth hanging onto and fighting over! However, it is important that you are being competitive because of a We There and not a Me There. In other words, do you want to win because you want to get your way or because there is a There that you want to reach for the good of the organization that can only be achieved by winning this conflict.
Perhaps the opposite of competition is accommodation. Here, you let the other person get their way without putting up a fight. People who default to accommodation may be used to their friends and family telling them, “don’t let people walk all over you” or “you should stick up for yourself and what you want!”
Accommodation can be useful when the conflict is of little consequence. Parents often have to choose their battles, so they may accommodate their child’s wish to wear a princess dress to the grocery store, for example, knowing they may have to use a different strategy when it comes to brushing their teeth later that evening.
If you are a natural accommodator, be careful not to sacrifice truth for the sake of harmony. Continue to uphold your values and speak up about what is important to you! Also be careful that when you do accommodate it is true accommodation, and not passive aggressive agree-ing to what the person wants when you secretly want something else and wish the other person could read your mind.
In the previous two strategies, there is one person who gets their way and one person who doesn’t. Compromise attempts to satisfy both parties to reach an agreement. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets everything that they want, but rather that each side gives and takes a little to reach each other in the middle.
This might be a useful strategy if the relationship is the most important part of the conflict. It helps those in disagreement move forward on relatively equal ground, and it requires that each of them get to state their side and hear the other one out.
Have you ever just walked out in the middle of an argument? Sometimes in the heat of the moment we need time to cool off because we aren’t able to Feel-Think-Act in the height of our emotions. That’s when avoidance is a useful tool.
The thing about avoidance, though, is that it can’t be the only tool we use in a conflict. Avoidance only delays the inevitable. So, if you are using avoidance in order to not deal with the issue at all, it will come back to bite you. However, avoidance can be helpful in letting each party calm down before they regroup to solve the conflict using another strategy.
For compromise, each party meets the other one in the middle to find an agreement. Collaboration, however, looks more like a triangle where they work together to find a new solution that takes both sides into account.
Sometimes collaboration is not possible, and if it is, it may be helpful to have a third party outside of the conflict to take the information and synthesize it.
None of these conflict resolution styles are better than the other. Rather, they each work best in a given circumstance. Think about which of the above styles you most frequently use, and, next time conflict arises, take a moment to think about which style you defaulted to. Being aware of our natural bent allows us to intentionally choose to utilize a different style that can help bring harmony and uphold our values.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.