“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” — Max Lucade
How you respond to and resolve conflict will limit or enable your success.
My goal with this post is to give you the tools to understand conflict, learn your own conflict patterns.
This will empower you to make more effective choices when you are finding or facing conflict.
By knowing your own default patterns you improve your self-awareness. Once you are aware of your own patterns, you can pay attention to whether they are working for you and you can explore alternatives.
By using a scenario-based approach, you can choose more effective conflict management styles and test their effectiveness for you and your situations.
Embrace Conflict as a Source of Growth and Transformation
Conflict can come from a variety of sources:
- Goals. Conflict can happen as a result of conflicting goals or priorities. It can also happen when there is a lack of shared goals.
- Personality conflicts. Personality conflicts are a common cause of conflict. Sometimes there is no chemistry, or you haven’t figured out an effective way to click with somebody.
- Scarce resources. Conflict can happen when you’re competing over scarce resources.
- Styles. People have different styles. Your thinking style or communication style might conflict with somebody else’s thinking style or their communication style. The good news is that conflicts in styles are easy to adapt to when you know how.
- Values. Sometimes you will find conflict in values. The challenge here is that values are core. Adapting with styles is one thing, but dealing with conflicting values is another. That’s why a particular business, group, or culture may not be a good fit for you. It’s also why “bird’s of a feather flock together” and why “opposites attract, but similarities bind.”
By embracing conflict as a part of life, you can make the most of each situation and use it as a learning opportunity or a leadership opportunity.
You can also use it as an opportunity to transform the situation into something better.
Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is a model for handling conflict:
The model organizes 5 conflict management styles based on two dimensions:
5 Conflict Management Styles
The five conflict management styles, as proposed by Thomas, K.W., and R.H. Kilmann, provide valuable insights into how individuals approach and handle conflicts in various situations.
Here are the five conflict management styles:
This is when you cooperate to a high-degree, and it may be at your own expense, and actually work against your own goals, objectives, and desired outcomes.
This approach is effective when the other party is the expert or has a better solution. It can also be effective for preserving future relations with the other party.
This style is like being the “peacemaker.”
You prioritize cooperation and harmony, sometimes at the expense of your own needs and objectives.
An example of accommodating is when you let a colleague have their way on a project even though you have a better idea.
It can be useful for maintaining relationships, but it might not serve your goals in the long term.
This is when you simply avoid the issue. You aren’t helping the other party reach their goals, and you aren’t assertively pursuing your own.
This works when the issue is trivial or when you have no chance of winning. It can also be effective when the issue would be very costly.
It’s also very effective when the atmosphere is emotionally charged, and you need to create some space.
Sometimes issues will resolve themselves, but “hope is not a strategy”, and, in general, avoiding is not a good long-term strategy.
When you choose to avoid a conflict, you essentially sidestep the issue.
You neither assert your own goals nor help the other party achieve theirs. Imagine a scenario where your roommate consistently leaves dirty dishes in the sink, and you decide not to bring it up to keep the peace.
Avoiding is effective for minor issues or when addressing the problem would be too costly or emotionally charged.
This is where you partner or pair up with the other party to achieve both of your goals.
This is how you break free of the “win-lose” paradigm and seek the “win-win.” This can be effective for complex scenarios where you need to find a novel solution.
This can also mean re-framing the challenge to create a bigger space and room for everybody’s ideas.
The downside is that it requires a high degree of trust and reaching a consensus can require a lot of time and effort to get everybody on board and to synthesize all the ideas.
Collaboration is about finding a “win-win” solution. You work closely with the other party to achieve both of your goals.
An example would be when two departments in a company with conflicting interests decide to combine their efforts to launch a successful project that benefits both.
Collaboration can be time-consuming but often yields innovative solutions.
This is the “win-lose” approach. You act in a very assertive way to achieve your goals, without seeking to cooperate with the other party, and it may be at the expense of the other party.
This approach may be appropriate for emergencies when time is of the essence, or when you need quick, decisive action, and people are aware of and support the approach.
This style is characterized by assertiveness and a “win-lose” mentality.
You pursue your goals without cooperating with the other party. In an emergency situation where quick decision-making is crucial, a competing approach may be appropriate.
For instance, in a crisis at work, a manager might make a unilateral decision to resolve the issue swiftly.
This is the “lose-lose” scenario where neither party really achieves what they want.
This requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation. It may be appropriate for scenarios where you need a temporary solution, or where both sides have equally important goals.
The trap is to fall into compromising as an easy way out, when collaborating would produce a better solution.
Compromising leads to a “lose-lose” scenario where both parties give up something to reach an agreement. It requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation.
Picture a situation where two friends want to choose a movie to watch.
They compromise by selecting a movie that neither of them is entirely thrilled about, but it’s an acceptable middle ground. Compromising can be helpful for temporary solutions or when both sides have equally important goals.
Conflict Management is Situational
In summary, understanding the five conflict management styles equips us with valuable strategies to navigate the complexities of human interactions.
Each style serves as a distinct approach to address conflicts, offering a range of options based on the situation at hand.
Whether it’s accommodating for the sake of harmony, avoiding temporarily to defuse tension, collaborating to find mutually beneficial solutions, competing when quick action is needed, or compromising to reach middle ground, these styles provide us with a versatile toolkit.
The key to effective conflict management is not rigidly adhering to one style but rather the ability to adapt and choose the most suitable approach for each circumstance.
Conflict resolution is a dynamic process that requires thoughtful consideration and empathy.
By employing these styles judiciously, we can foster healthier relationships, accomplish our objectives, and transform conflicts into opportunities for growth and understanding.
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