Conflict is a very natural phenomenon in most human relationships. Conflict management ability is an extremely valuable possession when it comes to having great interpersonal skills. And it is indeed something that can be learned and mastered. This article deals with various styles of conflict management, when to use each one and how to use it. Each style has its merits and each is suited to a different situation. If you are currently experiencing any sort of conflict in your work/family/social relationships, you would find a method here that can be effectively used in your particular case. It will also act as a guidepost in any future conflict situation that you may come across.
There are 5 main Conflict Resolution styles, each suited to a different scenario. Some of you may be used to predominantly using only one of these styles for all your conflict situations – which means you are not getting optimal results out of every situation. Once you master which style is suited to which situation and how you can apply it, it will greatly benefit your relationships. Please read through the descriptions for all the styles before you arrive at a conclusion as to which one suits your situation the best.
The 5 conflict resolution styles are Competing, Accommodating, Avoiding, Collaborating and Compromising.
The Competing Style
This is a conflict resolution style which is used constantly by aggressive people. Although aggressive, this style is the only way to go in certain situations. Let us first examine what this style entails, before we get into details of how and when to use it.
This style resolves a conflict by holding your ground, without giving in to the demands of the other people involved in the conflict. It assumes that the situation is a zero sum one where one has to lose for the other to win. Here, the party relentlessly pushes his or her agenda till s/he gets his/her way.
This is the style to resort to in the following situations – (a) When someone is too bullying, stubborn or aggressive and no other tactic stands a chance of working with them, or (b) when you are completely sure that the other party has unjust or unethical demands, or (c) when giving in to the demands of the other party can cause serious damage.
Now how do we go about this? The WRONG way would be to be too aggressive. You don’t really have to be aggressive or even raise your voice for this to work. You just have to be stable like a mountain – and simply refuse to take “no” for an answer. You can safely ignore empty threats and hold your ground even when the other party threatens and/or tries to manipulate you. Learn to be competitive while maintaining your composure and you have really bagged a wonderful asset for life.
The Accommodating Style
This is a style where you decide that your needs are not important, and sacrifice yourself for the other person. If this is your style of conflict resolution regardless of the situation you are in, you need to learn to be more assertive. You are not helping anyone including yourself by constantly denying your own rights.
Yet, there are situations when this is indeed the right way to approach conflicts. Let us examine them. You can you this style when (a) you have been proved wrong, or (b) the needs of the other party are more pressing and critical than yours, or (c) when getting your way is not as important as preserving continued harmony.
The WRONG way to use this style is to let the other person have what they want, then make them feel guilty for making you sacrifice your pleasures, or resent the sacrifice even though you made it. The right way to do it would be to evaluate the situation objectively, decide whether this style is the only logical path to go through, and then just do it in good spirit – if you know you would resent this sacrifice or that the end results are not worth it, then this style is not right in your case. If the issue seems to warrant this style, then use it gracefully – that way you can increase your self-esteem and gain respect and perhaps even gratitude from the other party involved.
The Avoiding Style
This is the only conflict management style known to many people. They imagine that the conflict will go away on its own if you pretend it doesn’t exist. They expect things to always sort themselves out, but sadly that is hardly the case in most real-life situations.
Still, it is worthwhile to avoid certain conflicts at least for the time being, to get optimal results. Let us examine what they are. They include situations where (a) you need to think over the issue before you can arrive at a definite solution, so you want to avoid taking immediate counter-action, or (b) when the issue is a one-time thing or temporary, and you really don’t have anything to gain by trying to address it, or (c) when you are dealing with an issue that could be sorted out later, at a more appropriate time, or (d) when the issue is too trivial, or (e) when the other party is just trying to get a rise out of you and biting that bait could lead to more trouble.
The Collaborating Style
This is a matured way of dealing with real conflict situations which need to be solved amicably. It takes emotional mastery and a mature approach.
The situations which warrant the use of this style include times (a) where you work on a team and the issues need to be addressed satisfactorily for best productivity, or (b) where you feel that you and the other party are not understanding each other completely, or (c) when the situation is emotionally charged and you want to restore peace and harmony, or (d) when the issue is really a major one.
Now how do you collaborate? This is a major skill and takes some patience and practice. But the rewards are really great once you do master it! The first and most important thing to do is to listen to the point of view of the other party. Now, anyone can claim they know all about the position of the other party, but no one really knows until they ask the person and understand their position.
As a first step, take initiative and tell the other person something to the effect of: “Looks like we have got differences of opinion here. We need to understand each other before we can proceed to solve it, so why don’t you go first and tell me your side of it?” This sets the scene for an adult conversation, and the other person would be more open to resolving the conflict. You would also gain their trust as you agree to listen to their side first, in stead of trying to prove a point.
Now, listen to what the other person has to say. If they refuse to communicate, respect their need for space, and politely enquire when you could take up the matter again for discussion. Once they start to tell their part, you need to listen. This is the most difficult phase, as you would be bursting with counter-arguments and reasons why theirs is not a valid point. Hold those in for now, and listen. As you listen to them, you need to occasionally paraphrase their point of view so that you both can get to be on the same page quicker. That is to say, once they have made a point, politely tell them what you have understood from their words, and ask whether it is right. This really helps in trust-building and also in helping you see where they are coming from.
Once you have heard their side of the story, you can share yours. Straight out declaring “Now I will tell you my point of view” may put the other person in the defensive. So you could present your position by starting with agreeing to any of the valid points they made, however trivial, and then opening your case gently. “I see where you are coming from, and I agree with you that . However, regarding there is something I think you should know. You see and hence I am .”
Now, seek to find a middle ground. Have a clear idea of what you are ready to compromise on, and what you absolutely cannot. Give and take an inch or two, and your middle ground proposition should be accepted, resulting in a win-win situation. Some people get defensive when they feel that you are leading the show and resolving it all by yourself – so make sure you involve them and that they do, in fact, feel involved. You would find it easier to achieve a collaborative conflict resolution this way.
The Compromising Style
Here you are ready to give up some of your needs (less than competing) and meet the rest of your needs (more than accommodating).
This is yet another conflict resolution style which can be effectively used in situations (a) when both parties are ready to give-and-take a little, or (b) when a temporary solution is necessary, or (c) when the things you are giving up are not as important as achieving a solution, or (d) when the situation is too trivial to be competitive and yet too important to be accommodating.
Here, you arrive at a compromise by finding mutually acceptable middle ground. “I will come to watch the baseball game today with you, and tomorrow you should take me shopping” is a good example of this. This can go a long way in having lasting relationships.
When things get too involved to find a resolution by the involved parties themselves, it is always advisable to get a mediator who is more experienced and unbiased. Often, a third party can spot the underlying issues which could go overlooked if the parties try to resolve the issues between themselves. If all else fails, this is the ideal way to go and will save you much heartache.
By effectively using the right conflict management style, we can always ensure harmony and fairness in our interpersonal associations. Taking the effort to manage this skill is a lifelong asset that could prove invaluable to you.
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