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Resolve Conflict with Confidence

The 5 conflict resolution styles: what they are and when to use them.
6 Feb 2018

Your Guide to Confidently Resolving any Conflict

Conflict is a part of life.  But how many of us have ever been taught how to effectively deal with conflict in a structured, reasoned manner.    In this blog, I highlight the five main strategies for conflict resolution.  You can also download the a Skillfluence guide for knowing which approach is the most appropriate for the situation in which you find yourself. 

1. Accommodate (I Lose, You Win)

When you accommodate, you put aside your needs and desires and acquiesce to the other person’s requests or demands. This style is appropriate when you place a high value on your relationship with the other party. It's also appropriate when the outcome of the conflict is of low importance to you, but of high importance to the other party.

Tips: Don’t be too quick to use the accommodating style. Refrain from using statements such as “It doesn’t matter to me” or “Whatever you say.” In order for both parties to feel good about the outcome, you should feel that you made a proactive decision to allow the other person’s needs to be met. The other party should recognise that you have given up something of value in order to resolve conflict. This will allow you to be viewed as cooperative, rather than weak. You will also have paved the way for requesting that the other party be as responsive to your needs in a future situation.

2. Avoid (I Lose, You Lose)

When you avoid conflict, you side-step or withdraw from the conflict situation. When you prevent or postpone the conflict, the conflict remains unresolved and neither party wins. By ignoring or postponing the conflict, you prevent either yourself or the other party from resolving the conflict. Sometimes conflicts resolve themselves when left alone. For instance, people who are angry may try to initiate arguments with you over silly things that they will not care about later on, when they are in control of their tempers. It also wise to avoid any conflicts in which you think the other party is dangerous, either because he or she may escalate to destructive conflict, or because he or she is simply too powerful for you to negotiate with on a level playing field.

Tips: Avoidance is often the best initial response to conflicts when you are unprepared for them. Use it as a short term strategy for buying time and figuring out how to handle the conflict. For example, ask to schedule a meeting to discuss the situation, and pick a time as far in the future as the other party will agree to. You will then have additional time to consider your approach to resolving the situation or have an improved position by then. If the other person has a deadline, your avoidance puts you in a better position over time. He or she is more likely to be reasonable and willing to collaborate or compromise when the deadline is at hand.

3. Compromise (We Both Win, We Both Lose)

In the compromise style, you resolve the conflict quickly and efficiently by seeking a fair and equitable split between your positions. When you compromise, each side concedes some of their issues in order to win others. The key to effective compromise is that both parties are flexible and willing to settle for a satisfactory resolution of their major issue. The compromise style is most appropriate when the outcome is of low to medium importance, and relationship is of high to medium importance. Compromise is most useful when you look to bring a conflict to quick closure.

Tips: True compromising involves honesty and reasonableness. Stating an exaggerated opening position, in order to retain as much “bargaining room” as possible, may be viewed as a challenge to the other party to do the same. This will cause both parties to distrust the real motivation of the other, and the resolution process will quickly change to a competing style. The compromise style works best when there is a degree of trust between both parties and/or the facts of the real needs of both parties are mutually understood.

4. Compete (I Win, You Lose)

When you compete, you seek to win your position at the expense of the other party losing theirs. Competing is the appropriate style when only one party can achieve their desired outcome. It is best used when the outcome is extremely important, and relationship is of relatively low importance. Many different situations require that the competing style be used in order to be resolved effectively. In situations where there can only be one “winner,” or when making a quick decision is crucial, are appropriate for the competing style. 

Tips: By definition, the competing style is not negative, and has many appropriate uses. It can, however, have a detrimental effect when it is overused – adopting a “winning at all costs” strategy regardless of the appropriateness of the situation. The competing style takes time and energy. It is, therefore, advisable that you “pick the right battles” and believe that the outcome justifies the investment of your time and energy.

5. Collaborate (I Win, You Win)

When you collaborate, you cooperate with the other party to try to resolve a common problem to a mutually satisfying outcome. You join with the other party to compete against the situation instead of each other. Each side must feel that the outcomes gained through collaboration are more favourable than the outcome they could achieve on their own.

Collaboration requires a trusting relationship with the other party; it requires a situation in which creative-problem solving will indeed benefit both parties, and it requires a high level of communication and problem solving skills. Using the collaborative style requires the highest investment of time and energy of any of the conflict handling styles. It should be used when both the outcome and the relationship are of high importance to both parties. 

Tips: In a genuine collaboration, each party starts by trading information instead of concessions. Each side must offer insight into their situation-what their concerns and constraints are. The collaborative process requires keeping an open mind, temporarily setting aside our own priorities, and considering many different approaches. Although it is tempting to think that the positive outcomes of successful collaboration make it the best choice for all conflicts, there is a danger in the overuse of this style. Certain situations require expedient solutions: where to go for lunch, what brand of paper to use in the office copier etc. People who see to collaborate on all situations may be wasting time and avoiding taking responsibility for their actions.

To help you determine which style is most appropriate for the conflict situation, we've put together a short questionnaire that will allow you to quickly determine the right approach based on the dynamics of the conflict. DOWNLOAD HERE.