Posts Tagged ‘conflict resolution; conflict resolve’

How is your conflict resolve working for you?

scarlettArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I often get accused of being passive-aggressive when it comes to resolving conflict. And I don’t deny it. Well, at least not the entire accusation. When conflict arises, I am passive but I am not aggressive. I’m not a yeller, I don’t explode, and I’ve never thrown things or slapped someone in the face like they do so promptly (and somehow seemingly consequence-free) in the movies. Remember when Scarlett threw the vase at Rhett? (Me either, it was a little before my time, but I’ve heard about it.)  When in conflict I tend to camp out in Wayne Dyer’s mindset when he said, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” But my lack of vase-throwing does not elevate me above those who do. My passiveness is equally hurtful and unhelpful in conflict resolve. It drives people nuts, especially those who tend to be competitive or controlling. Heck, it drives me nuts! Why can’t I just voice my opinion, yell a little, and get mad?!

Just a few weeks ago I received a phone call from someone carrying quite a bit of pent-up anger directed toward me. (These are rare, mind you, lest you think I’m a high-conflict sort of person). She was upset, to say the least, and I could hear a shaky anger in her voice. She became quite vocal, asked me questions but answered them herself, and even threw out a bit of name-calling.

I know her words probably should have riled me up, but they didn’t. When she reached her peak of spewing, I sensed the blank expression on my face and could actually feel a cloud of grey, emotionless fog creeping into my bones. I wasn’t tuning her out. I actually heard her quite nicely (because she was very loud at that point), and think I understood where she was coming from. It’s just that she’s someone who gets angry often, at many people, and I’ve learned to separate her stress from my stress. She gets upset but that doesn’t mean I have to get upset. Nevertheless–my passiveness, though it may protect my heart in moments such as these, actually escalated her anger and didn’t help with the conflict resolution one bit.

I have always carried a bit of guilt about my lack of Scarlett-ness when it comes to conflict resolve because so many people have told me it’s not healthy. Well-meaning friends have actually chided me to show my anger, to punch something! Passiveness is my own brand of avoidance, I’ll admit. But sometimes it really seems to work to de-escalate a situation. Yet other times, like on the recent phone call, it just makes things worse…which leaves me not feeling so great about my problem solving skills.

So is avoidance good or bad?! I only recently learned, from the work of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in 1974, creators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to assess an individual’s behavior in conflict, that there are different approaches to resolving conflict and each approach is correctdepending upon the moment. The 5 Conflict Resolution Styles they came up with are:

  • Competing
  • Compromise
  • Avoidance
  • Collaboration
  • Accommodation

Who would’ve known?  I’ve always thought there was one best practice to resolving conflict, and knew I didn’t have it. I figured I just needed to be more assertive. And the thing is, I do. At times. But sometimes, I need to be more accommodating. And other times, a little more compromising would do the trick. It’s not that one way is any better or worse than another way –it’s just a matter of figuring out WHICH method is most appropriate for the situation at hand.

So how do we know when to use which style of conflict management? Authors of  the book Competence in Interpersonal Conflict, William Cupach and Daniel Canary, said this,

“There is little value in preparing a cookbook of recipes for conflict success. The effects of conflict interaction depend directly on what the participants do mentally with conflict behaviors – that is, how they process and interpret those behaviors.”

Regrettably there’s not an easy formula to use, an ‘input = output’. I’d love to tell you that when this happens, do this, and when that happens, do that, but these things called human beings are involved in interpersonal conflict.  Living, breathing, feeling humans with erratic behavior, differing backgrounds and all levels of maturity and ability to manage their own emotions. Not to mention what you bring to the table. And when these feelings clash in passionate discourse, the ability to choose the correct conflict management style can be difficult to say the least. We have to use social and emotional intelligence – the ability to read, in the moment, our own emotions and those of others, and manage them appropriately. In the moment. That’s the hard part. Because in the heat of the moment is when it’s extremely difficult to exercise any kind of control, but in the heat of the moment is when we need to use social and emotional intelligence the most!

And we all have our go-to, preferred style when it comes to managing conflict. What’s yours?  Know that this is normal. We develop it based upon our past experiences of what has worked – and what hasn’t, even from our early childhood. We also learn our style based upon the corporate culture in which we work. For example, in your office, how is conflict typically resolved? Are there frequent blow-ups? Does your manager immediately call a meeting? Do certain coworkers avoid other coworkers? Sometimes we tend to go with the flow of ‘how things are’ in our work environments and adopt those styles as our own. As well, we can learn our own style of conflict resolve based upon observing others and seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

No matter your current style of conflict resolve, it doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself to learn a new way of operating. Phyllis Bottome, a British novelist, put it this way:

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties:  You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.”

Since most conflicts that arise can’t exactly be altered, as they’ve already taken place, our choice is how we alter ourselves to meet them.

Learning to use each of these styles, depending upon the situation, will increase our interpersonal effectiveness and ability to work well with others. Let’s look at the 5 styles to 1-see which best describes you and 2-learn when using this style is most effective:

The Competitor.  You are assertive and aggressive, and tend to dominate disagreements. You demonstrate little concern for the opinion of others. While this method can be hurtful and stifling to the other parties involved, the Competitor is vital in situations where decisiveness is necessary. Emergencies in which quick action is needed cry out for the Competitor, often when the issue requires an unpopular action.

The Compromiser.  You are cooperative and assertive and act as a bridge between team members. You are agreeable to both sides of the conflict and can see the benefits of both viewpoints. The danger in this is that you are seen as not having a firm set of values, and at times you may not even recognize what you stand for. But the Compromiser is very beneficial to situations where a temporary settlement is called for on issues that are more complex, or when you need to find short-term solutions for the benefit of the relationship.

The Avoider.  You (me) can easily shrug off conflict. You refuse to engage in heated arguments, never let your temper rise and quickly disconnect from the other person’s viewpoint. Though this style can delay problem-resolve, and if overused breeds a lack of empathy, it is helpful when there are more pressing matters to tackle to keep everyone focused on what is important.  The Avoider can ‘turn down the heat’, (you’ve heard the saying it takes two to tumble) and slow things down so all of the information needed to resolve the conflict can be gathered.

The Collaborator.  You are a good listener and like the Compromiser, able to cooperate and assert your opinions simultaneously; however, you actively seek to find a resolution so both sides win. You can be taken advantage of by more assertive team members, but this style is crucial when the objective is to integrate differing points of view and keep the team intact.

The Accommodator.  Harmony and cooperation are important to you. You are willing to put aside your own needs out of concern for the others and for the sake of the team. Though you tend to resist changes that are inevitable, this style is valuable when it is important to keep the peace or elevate positivity. Being accommodating is a good style to use when you realize you are wrong, or need to be the voice of reason. The Accommodator’s influence has a long reach and when conflict comes up again down the road,  teammates remember that you were willing to see things from a different point of view.

So there you go. Easy as pie, huh? Just pick the right style for the right situation and you’re set!  We all know it is easier said than done, and learning to navigate conflict resolve with ease can take a lifetime. But we may as well get busy figuring this out, as conflict is a part of being human. Saul Alinsky, community organizer and writer, sums it up with this:

 ”Conflict is a part of life. Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”

Conflict is not going away. But learning to deal with it in a healthier, more productive style can be learned. And the rewards of learning how to use the correct style of conflict management for the right occasion will bring us the gift of healthier, stronger interpersonal relationships.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” – Richard Bach

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