Life is full of daily interactions that can lead to conflict; whether it’s at home, in the workplace, or, a personal favorite for some, in the comment section of your favorite social media platform. Everyone has patterns that emerge while engaging with conflict. These patterns have been studied and grouped into categories called “Conflict Management Styles” (CMS). When leaders take the time to study conflict management, they become more equipped to respond intentionally, even in the heat of the moment.
5 Conflict Management Styles
There are five main conflict management styles and each is best suited for different types of situations. When the improper style is used, results can be disruptive and lead to unresolved decisions, increased negative emotions, and may even foster harmful environments, especially at work.
When you’re able to match the right conflict management style to the situation at hand, the result is much more constructive and nurtures an environment of learning, growth, and respect. Mastering the ability to adapt between styles is a skill I call Situational Conflict Management.
The first step to mastering conflict management is to learn about the conflict management styles, determine which ones are best used for certain situations, and most importantly, which ones you tend to default to first. Self-awareness is key to self-improvement! Let’s dive into each of the five conflict management styles:
Collaboration, also called “cooperative problem solving,” often results in win-win outcomes. When collaborating, you typically have a high concern for self and a high concern for others. Collaboration involves working together to redefine the problem at hand and a solution that will meet each individual’s interests. This style is best used in a team environment, especially when tasked to solve a problem. Collaboration allows for open and honest communication and will require a level of vulnerability from participants as they offer solutions. When in a collaborative situation, it’s best to have an active listening mindset, encouraging participation from all members.
Competition involves a high concern for self and a low concern for others. Choosing a competitive conflict management style means a person is putting his or her own interests before anyone else’s. This produces a “Win-Lose” situation and tends to be a very disruptive style of conflict management. This style is useful when it comes to sports as it drives athletes to continuously be better than their competition, but can be damaging in the workplace and should generally be avoided. Individuals who default to this style can sometimes be so committed to getting what they want that they may end up ruining friendships and work relationships in the process.
Compromising involves a medium concern for self and a medium concern for others. Individuals choose this style of conflict management when it is important to satisfy some of their interests, but not all of them. They are likely to “split the difference,” or agree, “something is better than nothing.” With a compromise, everyone wins something but everyone loses something as well. This conflict management style works well when a solution that satisfies all parties seems to be out of reach. Many therapists suggest compromise as a solution for relationships that are struggling to stay in sync. While both parties may not walk away winning everything they want, most can agree on a solution that meets most of their wants and will be satisfying for all parties involved.
Individuals who choose avoidance, as the name suggests, avoid getting involved in conflict altogether. They have a low concern for self and a low concern for others. Unfortunately, this is the most frequently used style for dealing with conflict and portrays an attitude of, “you decide and leave me out of it.” This style is often used until the problem can’t be ignored any longer. The problem with this style is that it can allow problems to grow and become unmanageable when they should have been dealt with at an earlier stage. Putting yourself in a mindset to stretch, grow, and be a little uncomfortable up front can save you a lot of heartaches, extra work, or even costly mistakes down the road!
Accommodation is when one has a low concern for self and a high concern for others. People who choose accommodation as a conflict management style put their interests last and typically let others have what they want. These individuals place greater importance on the relationship than the situation and believe that a good relationship requires them to accommodate the other parties. This style is useful in some situations, especially if there are higher levels of leadership to take into consideration or if it’s truly a situation in which you have low stakes. However, defaulting to accommodation can often breed resentment, especially in situations that you’re passionate about. It can also set an expectation that the other parties’ wants are more important, so when you do voice a conflicting opinion, it can lead to a higher level of conflict because your response will be unusual, based on past behavior.
Relating To A Specific Style
As you can see, each conflict management style has its own strengths and weaknesses. As you read through each type, did you find yourself relating to a certain style? Maybe you found yourself reflected in multiple styles as you thought of the different situations you find yourself in daily. Self-awareness and knowledge are the best ways to recognize your response to conflict and adapt when necessary!
If your team is struggling with conflict management, proper awareness and training can transform a workplace. Lighthouse Leadership is now offering Lunch & Learn programs with 32 dynamic and engaging workshops, FREE for qualifying businesses! Contact us now to learn more and give Lighthouse Leadership a test run to see what quality leadership training can do for your business!