What is Your Conflict Style?

Workplace conflicts are a natural part of working with other people. As a leader, it is your responsibility to help your team manage conflict in a way that minimizes negative factors and enables the parties involved to come to a place of resolve.

Knowing how others handle conflict, as well as how YOU tend to respond to conflict, will empower you to lead your team more effectively.

Are you familiar with the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes? These 5 approaches to conflict represent various ratios of assertiveness (the extent to which you try to solve and resolve for your preferred outcomes) and cooperativeness (the level to which you try to resolve the other party’s problems). There is an assessment you can take to gain insight into your own default style, or you may recognize yourself in the descriptions below.

Here are descriptions of each style, as explained by the creators of the assessment:

  • COMPETING is assertive and uncooperative—an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person’s expense. This is a power-oriented mode in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position—your ability to argue, your rank, or economic sanctions. Competing means “standing up for your rights,” defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.
  • ACCOMMODATING is unassertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of competing. When accommodating, the individual neglects his own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person; there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.
  • AVOIDING is unassertive and uncooperative—the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual. Thus he does not deal with the conflict. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.
  • COLLABORATING is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating involves an attempt to work with others to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the two individuals. Collaborating between two persons might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.
  • COMPROMISING is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls intermediate between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than accommodating. Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding, but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

While collaborating is almost always the ideal approach in a team environment, it is not always possible. A great leader will understand when to use each of the conflict styles based on the circumstances while ensuring that the team and organization’s goals are at the forefront of the choice.

Next week we’ll share some criteria you can use to evaluate which conflict mode might best serve the situation.

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