Five styles of handling conflict
By Michele Majul-Ibarra
I was watching an episode of Mystery Diners this past weekend. The show is an American reality television series on the Food Network. Mystery diners are undercover operatives who go into restaurants at the owner’s request to set up undercover diners and hidden surveillance cameras to catch misbehaving restaurant staff in the act. In this particular episode, there were two employees who were not getting along; one was a manager and the other a restaurant server. The two used to date and recently decided to end their relationship. Since the break-up, there had been a lot of tension between the two – to a point where it affected their ability to provide quality service to customers. The owners found that there had been a lot of complaints about service and inappropriate verbal exchange between the two employees.
As you can see, when working in a group, there will be times when you may have to work with a difficult person. Conflict exists in any group settings such as at home, in sports, at school and at work. The workplace is especially full of conflict. Often times, an employee may not be aware of his or her impact on others. Depending on others’ perception, everyone has probably been viewed at one time or another, as a difficult person. You see, everybody has the capacity to be both productive and problematic, but it all depends on how the situation is viewed. With an open-minded approach and a change in perspective about a person, the experience with a difficult colleague may change from a possible conflict situation to a great learning experience.
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann (1972), two experts in human behaviour developed five conflict handling modes or styles for dealing with conflict that affect interpersonal and group dynamics. According to Thomas and Kilmann, individuals tend to have a habitual way of dealing with conflict, which can take over when under pressure. However, the best way to deal with conflict is to discover your preferred style and learn how to manage a variety of situations using different approaches.
“Whatever you want is fine with me.”
This style is called accommodating; it is unassertive and cooperative. A person using this style neglects his or her needs to satisfy the concerns of the other person. This style can be best utilized when you want to preserve harmony and when the relationship is the most important goal.
“My way or the highway!”
Competing is the name of this style and it is power-oriented. The goal of this style is to win a conflict and pursue a goal without agreement from others. This style is decisive, assertive and addresses personal needs, however, it can damage relationships and shut others down. This style is best utilized in emergencies or when your authority and role at work are unquestionable.
“I will think about it tomorrow.”
This style is called avoiding and is both unassertive and uncooperative. The goal of this style is to delay. This style does not address the conflict and does not pursue own concerns or those of others. This style is best utilized when more time is needed to assess the situation or when emotions need to cool down.
“Two heads are better than one.”
Collaborating is the name of this style and the goal is to find a win-win solution. The style is both assertive and cooperative. This style is basically the opposite of avoiding as it aims to learn, listen and address the issue.
“Let’s make a deal.”
The goal of this style is to find a mutually acceptable alternative and has the desire to negotiate. This style is called compromising and it is best utilized when quick solutions are needed under pressure and when collaboration is not worth the time required.
Often times, when there is a conflict, the parties who disagree will each try to win and make the other person wrong. When this happens, both parties focus on winning and it becomes more difficult to find a way to resolve the conflict. When people approach conflict with a win/lose objective, they are likely to be left with feelings of resentment and anger. While every person can use all five styles at different times, we tend to prefer one or two habitual responses in conflict situations. All styles are relevant and useful and when used appropriately, it can help achieve a positive outcome.
The content of this article is intended for general information only and is not intended to serve as advice.