Five Conflict Styles That Affect Our Approach To Disputes

Arrow of a compass pointing to the word mission (3D Rendering)People have different conflict styles.  They approach conflict differently.  Every conflict is also unique.  Different personalities, relationship dynamics and histories all impact how a conflict is resolved.  Mediators and Collaborative lawyers are well trained in working with people who have different personality types and conflict styles.  They examine conflicts to see if the resolution is all about compromise or if other approaches might work.  They help translate the language and positions of parties that approach conflict differently, and help them create various ways to resolve their disputes that not only meet their bottom-line needs but also make sense in terms of their approaches.  While mediators and the Collaborative Law team use different specific techniques, the overall philosophy is the same.

In one model that is commonly used to analyze conflict, there are five primary modes of conflict: avoiding, competing, compromising, accommodating, and collaborating.  None of them is best at all times.  Each of these modes has its appropriate place, sometimes even during different steps of resolving the same conflict.

People avoid conflict when their sense of self-protection is triggered or when conflict is uncomfortable.  It also makes sense if the timing is bad or one party has not had enough time or information to prepare for real engagement.  Many disputes begin with avoidance.  However, if both parties continue to avoid conflict, it may prevent a resolution.

Competing and accommodating occur when an individual focuses solely on his own goals or primarily on the interests of the other party, respectively.  Pure competing mode is totally selfish, and pure accommodating is totally selfless.  Pure competing can be a good approach when the relationship is unimportant or, in commercial cases, if that is the culture of the relationship.  Pure accommodating can be a good approach when the issue is much more important to one party than the other or if the relationship is so important that any hint of competition might damage it (think of the dysfunctional boss versus the longsuffering employee!).  Either one may result in a “win” under the circumstances, depending on on what is important.  However, most of the time, people tend to compromise, finding solutions in the middle that at least partially meets the interests of both parties.

Collaborating occurs when each party focuses both on meeting its own interests while working with the other party to meet its interests as well.  It is an active process that requires listening, communication and the sharing of relevant information.  It is not the best solution to all problems, since it takes more time and resources to collaborate than to compromise.  It is the most difficult mode to enter and the easiest to fall from.

In this model from conflict theory, collaborating is a great way to “expand the pie” in coming up with creative solutions to problems.  However, when it comes time for making a decision, most of the time the options will involve some degree of compromise.  The skill of the mediator or the Collaborative Law team are in guiding the parties through the process, using whichever techniques best fit the situation.  For a complicated conflict – especially one that has already reached the legal system – these roles are helpful.

Finally, these roles can be helpful in developing contractual arrangements, like partnerships.  People who have to learn to work together sometimes benefit from assistance in applying these different conflict styles to the negotiation of the terms of their arrangements.  Properly trained professionals can help.

Here is an easy way to remember the different conflict styles:

Avoiding – Run away!
Competing- I win
Accommodating – Whatever you want
Compromising – Let’s split the baby
Collaborating – Is there a way to expand the pie so we both get something we want?