Each of us manage conflicts differently. Some of them can be quite unpleasant to deal with, and not every situation calls for the same response. No matter what the conflict may be, effective conflict management is important not just for professional purposes, but also for personal success. And the way we each handle them depends on our innate tendencies, experiences, and the demands of the moment. And knowing which conflict management style is right for you or for the situation is important to be able to manage them more effectively.
Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.Ronal Reagan
What causes conflict?
The goal of conflict management is to minimise the potential negative impacts that can arise and to increase the possibility of a positive outcome. However, before we go on to find out about different ways of managing a conflict, it is important to identify the sources of it. Although there are many reasons why conflict occurs at an individual, or at an organisational level, many conflicts revolve around some common issues.
- Differences of values/view point.
- Incompatibility or lack of common understanding.
- Clashing of thoughts and ideas.
- Power status—When people involved intend to maximise or assert their influence on the other.
- Incongruence in needs/goals.
- Lack of communication, teamwork, or transparency.
- Lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities.
Also, perception is a huge factor in conflicts. There are probably many situations where you thought you heard something, only for the other to correct you on what you heard. At times, you might have said something, but the person heard what he or she wanted to hear. What a person perceives in interpersonal interactions often affects his or her behaviour, attitude, and communication.
Conflicts occur when individuals or groups are not obtaining what they want, especially, when every side is seeking their own self-interest. When individuals, groups, and organisations have limited resources and unlimited needs, such incompatibility often leads to disagreements. Sometimes, it can be because one chooses to unconsciously act out, others times, it is because of an obstructive behaviour as someone is deliberately pursuing a goal. Some are even characterised by hostility and is usually fuelled in an attempt to reach an objective different from that of other.
Conflict Management Vs. Conflict resolution
The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.Thomas Crum
Although conflict is inevitable, the ability to identify and navigate conflict in a way that is efficient or effective is important. If they are not managed properly, or not fairly navigated, they lead to stress, unmet goals and poor work or personal relationships. It is important to note that conflict management is not conflict resolution. Fair navigation of conflict is what makes it better managed. Conflict resolution on the other hand, involves the reduction or resolving the conflict completely.
Since it is not possible to resolve every conflict or disagreement, learning how to manage them constructively can decrease the odds of non-productive behaviours. And if managed well, it can be a way to come up with more meaningful realisations that can be helpful to everyone involved. Also, the fact is that not all forms of conflict are bad, some types of conflict are beneficial as they create an opportunity to address problems.
Recognising that conflict is inevitable, and that it can create opportunities for growth, and improvement, you become effective at managing them. And this involves openness, exchange of information, look for alternatives to clear the differences in a manner that is acceptable to both the parties.
Poor conflict management skills on the other can lead to poor leadership, wastage of resources like time and money, and unproductive work environments. Ineffective conflict management also leads to lack of trust, low morale and decreased productivity.
Different styles of conflict management.
Considering that we as individuals have our own specific wants, needs, opinions, ideas and set of beliefs, we have our own ways of handling conflicts. We act according to what we think is proper. And the way we each manage them often changes depending on what we value the most, or how important is the issue in context. According to Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, there are five different styles of conflict management.
Accommodating (You win, I lose)
An Accommodating mode of conflict management style is highly cooperative and non-assertive in its approach. This style prioritises empathy and the relationship over the outcome. To solve the conflict, an individual sets aside his or her own concerns and yields to what the other wants, displaying an element of self-sacrifice or selflessness.
It is best used when you know you are wrong, lack power, or the relationship is worthy far more than the outcome. This style also could be appropriate when you care less about the issue or want to feel as though you are in the wrong, or feel like agreeing to the other point of view.
Accommodating style might benefit your work when an immediate solution is required or when a conflict is trivial. And at personal level, this style works when your relationship with the other is more important than being right. For instance, a disagreement with your peer, parent, partner, or a child.
Though this might seem agreeable and easy going, it however brings about a false manner of dealing with the problem. Being too accommodative too often might weaken your point of view. When people consistently put their interests last so as to accommodate others’ needs, they are prone to experiencing resentment. It may solve the problem for the other side, but to the one managing, his or her concerns remain unresolved.
Avoiding (you lose, I lose)
This conflict management style is non-assertive and non-cooperative. In this approach, the conflict is ignored completely. Avoiding conflicts however is unproductive for the one managing the conflict. This style is characterised by evading, or dealing with the issues through a passive attitude. One chooses to continuously postpone or dodge the conflict whenever it occurs.
This style is used when the risks of resolving a conflict outweigh the benefits. The goal is to avoid the conflict until it becomes absolutely necessary to solve the issue. In this approach, relationship remains unaffected, there is no outcome as the conflict is not addressed.
It also works in situations where you need time to think through a disagreement or when you have to deal with more pressing issues to handle. This is appropriate when the issue seems trivial or feel as though you have no chance of winning, or you are afraid of having to deal with the consequences.
However, this style of conflict management is obstructive and limited. When left unresolved, some conflict situations grow worse. This could take other forms of avoidance like withdrawing from a situation, sidestepping the issues or delaying. Since it also means neglecting the responsibility, it is applicable in certain situations but not in all.
Related : How to overcome conflict avoidance
Competing (you lose, I win)
The competing style of conflict management is high in assertiveness and low in cooperation. A person managing through this style puts his or her interests before everyone else’s. This prioritises concern for self and minimises empathy. Chooses the outcome over relationship. The goal is often to win the disagreement over maintaining a positive relationship with the other side involved. When adopting this style, one side focuses narrowly on claiming as much as they can for themselves.
This is often used when one is in a position of power of some sort or when one’s leadership is established. It is used when the relationship does not matter but when the outcome does. Or when you have to stand up for your morals or when pursuing a meaningful purpose.
However, the relationship gets negatively affected and the other person or side receives a negative outcome. People who manage conflict through this style are quite dominating and would want others to agree to their terms. Competing leads to negative emotions, doesn’t help build good relationships and sometimes might result in losing opportunities.
Compromising (you win/lose, I win/lose)
This conflict management style is moderately assertive and moderately cooperative. It is about coming up with a solution that would be acceptable to everyone involved. Compromising puts equal importance both on the relationship and the outcome. One side is willing to set aside their goals as long as the other side will do the same. In other words, there is a mutual give and take to satisfy both sides involved.
The goal is to satisfy the needs of everyone involved. It is best used when there is less time and when any solution is better than not having any. Since everyone involved is partly satisfied, the relationship remains unaffected and both parties receive a positive outcome. And requires resources like time and money.
When you resolve a conflict by proposing seemingly equal compromise, you try to take a middle path between two extreme positions, or make a significant compromise just to move forward. However, though there is a swift communication, the solution often is unsatisfying as it doesn’t always address the root issues at stake.
Collaborating (you win, I win)
Collaborating style of conflict management is assertive as well as cooperative. It demands a high level of cooperation from everyone involved. Collaborators take a moderate approach and try to find a common ground. Individual or groups involved work together to achieve a shared goal. Communication often plays an important role in this strategy as one works towards gaining an understanding of others’ demands and express their own needs.
Prioritises the relationship over the outcome. The goal is to meet all the needs of all sides involved in the conflict. This style is used when both relationships and outcomes are important. Both sides receive a positive outcome without having to sacrifice anything in return. And works best if you have plenty of time and share the same power as of other parties involved.
People who manage a conflict through this style see value in working through differences and look for ways that will give each side more of what they want. This is appropriate when multiple perspectives need to be addressed. However, collaboration isn’t easy and it requires everyone’s willingness to invest time and resources to find a win-win solution. It needs people to trust each other and value working together.
How to choose which style is right for you
There is no one conflict management style that suits everyone, and no one style can be applied to every conflict. However, the key to successful conflict management often lies in choosing the right style that fits your needs. Since each style has its own strengths and weaknesses, choosing a style that is right for you depends on the following three factors.
- The value of relationship between the two parties or individuals involved.
- The importance of getting the outcome you desire by addressing the —.
- And the resources like time and money
People naturally gravitate toward different conflict management styles based on their personality-types. For instance, if you are prone to thinking and judging, you approach a Competing conflict management style. And thinking and perceiving types mostly choose Collaborating conflict management style. Those who are prone to feeling and judging, Accommodating or avoiding conflict management style might suit their needs. Feeling and perceiving are more likely to approach a Comoromising conflict management style.
Self-concept and expectations also influence the way one manages the conflict. The complexity of the issue—for instance, it might make sense to avoid or accommodate when you are dealing with minor issues, while larger disputes would demand a more competitive style of conflict management. The approaches some people take also depends on their power status, whether it means other is equal, less or more. Furthermore, here are some ways to choose the style that is right for you.
Identify what you value the most
How much you value the person in conflict, or how much the outcome is important to you—influences the style you are going to choose. For instance, you may choose Avoidance if it may not seem worth ruining your relationship with someone. You may choose to Accommodate or come to consensus if you want to forge a stronger relationship with the other involved. And if the outcome is more important, like if the conflict is a matter of your morals or personal values, then it is important to choose Competing style of conflict management.
Weigh up pros and cons
There will be consequences for the kind of approach you take towards managing a conflict. And one should be prepared for whatever consequences may be. Decide what you are willing to let go in terms of the relationship, outcome, or resources. Having clarity of all the positive and negative consequences helps you choose an effective conflict management style. For instance, if you choose to compete, you should be aware of potential risks if at all there is going to be a change in the relationship you share with the other side. Similarly, choosing to accommodate or compromising might perhaps will have moral consequences like not standing up for your beliefs.
Assess the required resources
By choosing to manage a conflict, you need to expend certain resources like time, energy and sometimes money. Ensuring that you have the time in your schedule to dedicate to the issue in conflict, you can choose an appropriate style of conflict management. You might choose to collaborate and work through common means to manage an issue. On the other hand, if you have less time, you may either simply avoid or get persuaded to give in. And if the issue is meaningful and worth the energy you may choose to compete.
Questions to ask yourself to decide which style is right for you in a particular situation,
How important are my goals and outcomes?
What happens if my needs and goals aren’t met? Or What consequences am I willing to accept?
What do I value the most in this situation— relationship or outcome?
How important is the issue in conflict?
What are the consequences of using this particular approach to conflict?
Do I have the necessary time and energy to manage the conflict?
Conflict is an inevitable part of our daily life, both work and personal. And they can be a healthy learning experience when we manage them effectively. When you know which conflict management style best suits your preferences, you are in a better position to find solutions to manage it. And the better you get at managing them, the better are your chances to learn, grow and improve at other perspectives.