Handling Conflict

Do you know what your conflict handling style is? Do you know when to use it?

Depending on our personality and life experiences we tend to differ in how we handle conflict. There are five generally accepted conflict handling styles that describe an individual's behavior according to the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy their own concerns and the extent to which they attempt to satisfy the other person's concerns.

Competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating and compromising are all styles of handling conflict and each are useful in particular situations. However, most of us tend to use a particular style more than others and it is important to understand when it is appropriate to use that style and when it can lead to negative consequences.

A key to having good relationships is understanding ourselves, and knowing how we prefer to handle conflict certainly helps! A conflict handling style questionnaire is available for download below so you can find out how you handle conflict.

Now that you have identified your preferred style of handling conflict the next step is understanding what conflict handling style to use for various situations.




When to compete/dominate

The best time to use this style effectively is when quick, decisive action is needed or when protection is needed against people who take advantage of non-competitive behaviour. It also works well when used on important issues for which unpopular courses of action need implementing.

Potential negative consequences

Overusing this style can result in reduced communication, damaged relationships and low levels of commitment from the other person. It can also result in having to keep “selling” or policing a solution and create a climate of fear of admitting ignorance or uncertainty.




When to collaborate/integrate

Collaborating works well when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised. When incorporating others’ concerns into a consensus decision can increase commitment collaboration is also a great style to use.

If the need is to work through hard feelings that have been interfering with an interpersonal relationship collaborating will work. It also works when the objective is to test one’s own assumptions or better understand the views of others.

Potential negative consequences of collaborating

Unfortunately collaborating can lead to too much time spent on an insignificant issue. Other potential pitfalls of this style are ineffective decisions made from input from people unfamiliar with the situation and unfounded assumptions about trust.




When to compromise

Compromising is effective when two opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals. It is also effective when goals are moderately important but not worth the effort of potential disruption of more assertive modes.

When expedient solutions are necessary and there is time pressure or complexity this is a good style to use. It is also appropriate as a back-up style is when collaboration or competition fail.

Potential negative consequences of compromising

The potential pitfall of compromising can be a result that no one is fully satisfied with and short-lived solutions. It can also result in a cynical climate through the perception of a sell out and losing sight of the bigger issues and values by focusing too much on practicalities.




When to avoid

Avoiding is appropriate when an issue is trivial and when there is no chance of getting what you want. It also works when the potential damage of confrontation outweighs the benefits of resolution.

When more information needs to be gathered avoiding can be a hepful style. It is also effective when one needs to cool down, reduce tensions, and regain perspective and composure.

Potential negative consequences of avoiding

Avoiding can lean to decisions being made by default and unresolved issues. It also has the potential to sap energy when issues are dwelt on for longer than is necessary and to create self-doubt through lack of esteem. If avoiding is not used appropriately creative input and improvement can be blocked and it can also lead to a lack of credibility.




When to accommodate

When you realize you are wrong, accommodating is the style to use. It is also helpful when the issue is much more important to the other person.

When continued competition would only cause more damage, and when preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important, accommodating is a great style. It is also helpful when you want to create an environment where there is freedom to develop and to learn from mistakes.

Potential negative consequences of accommodating:

Overuse of this style can lead to decreased influence and respect, laxity in discipline and actually relinquishing the best solution. It also results in frustration as own needs are not met and self-esteem undermined.