Don't Quarrel, Work Out Your Conflict Styles

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 26th, 2010

Your conflict management style is your particular way of responding to conflict with others. Life experience causes all of us to acquire preferences and habits of how to respond to conflict and we tend to use these over and over again. This is is your conflict management style.

What you should know about conflict management styles.

1. You function better if you know what your preferred styles are. When you don't know your preferences clearly, you run on autopilot and react blindly. If you know your preferences, you can more easily make good, conscious choices. For example, if you know your tendency is to avoid conflict, you will be better able to decide whether avoiding is really the most useful response the next time you get in a conflict.

2. You can dramatically improve your ability to deal with differences constructively in any relationship if you openly discuss your conflict style management style preferences with others. When people know and understand each other's style, they are less reactive. They are more likely to be patient with each other's responses.

Having such a discussion is almost always a positive experience. There is nothing difficult about saying, "These are my preferred styles of dealing with differences." Most people find such a conversation encouraging, enlightening, and enjoyable. People who live or work together benefit greatly from having such a discussion. Choose a time and place when you are relaxed and not in the middle of a fight.

3. There are five basic styles of dealing with conflict:

- Directing (highly assertive and not concerned about relationships). "Here is what we are going to do (my way, of course)...."

- Harmonizing (very concerned with relationships and not assertive). "Whatever you say is fine with me (I just want to keep you happy)....

- Avoiding (neither assertive nor concerned with relationships). "I'd rather not talk about it right now (better to do nothing than have a disagreement)..."

- Cooperating (assertive but also concerned with the relationship). "Here is how I'd like to do it, but I'd also like to hear what you think we should do (If we just state our differences openly, I'm sure we can figure out a way to keep us both happy)...."

- Compromising (medium assertive and medium concern for relationship). "I'll back off a bit from what I'd prefer if you'll back off some too (Nobody should expect to get everything they want)...."

4. There is no right and wrong style. Each conflict management style has its own strengths and weaknesses. The goal is simply to know these and then choose the right style for the situation you are in.

5. You can bring out the best in other people if you know the preferences that are associated with each conflict management style. For example, a preference to always begin with connecting as persons before settling down to serious business is usually strong in people who prefer Harmonzing.

A preference to think things through carefully is common among people who prefer Avoiding. Therefore it is important not to demand instant answers from an Avoider. You can easily learn these preferences and this knowledge will help you a lot in bringing out the best in the people around you.

For several decades human relations trainers and teachers of conflict resolution skills have used conflict management style inventories to help people get a clear sense of their own preferences. Two of the most widely used are the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and Style Matters.

How to Use Conflict Styles in Working with Other People

If you understand conflict management styles, you can often immediately sense what another person will need to feel comfortable. Below are sample "hot tips", excerpted from Style Matters:

How to bring out the best in someone who prefers the Directing conflict management style

- People who prefer the Directing style are task oriented. They are often highly productive and concerned to get the job done. They are good crisis managers and want results. Engage them and let them know you are committed to getting the job done or resolving the issue satisfactorily.
- If you need time to think things through, Directors are usually fine if you ask for this, so long as you indicate your commitment to returning to resolve things. You will get a more positive response if you state clearly when you will come back (e.g., in an hour, or tomorrow at nine o'clock, etc).

How to bring out the best in someone who prefers Avoiding

- More than any other style, Avoiders benefit from an offer to give them time and/or space to withdraw and think things through. You are more likely to get a "yes" answer on anything you need from them if you use a "two-step" approach. First, let the Avoider know you want something from them and you'd like them to think about this. Then return later - an hour, a day, a week - and hear their response.
- Stay low-key. The more intense or demanding you are, the more likely the Avoider will go into deeper withdrawal.

How to bring out the best in someone who prefers Harmonizing

- Harmonizers want to please and be pleased. Pay attention to small social niceties. More than other styles, Harmonizers are positively affected by gestures of thoughtfulness - a kind note, an appreciative comment, a card, flowers, a chocolate bar, etc.
- You will get more cooperativeness in doing serious work with Harmonizers if you use a two-step approach. First, connect with them as human beings. Ask how they are doing, inquire about a family member, tease a little, thank them for something, etc. Then, and only then, settle down to business. The human connection always comes before work for Harmonizers - an insight that may be especially difficult for task-oriented Directors to remember.
- Stay light. Seriousness or heaviness quickly stirs anxiety in Harmonizers and makes it hard for them to function well. Use humor. Appreciate their good qualities out loud.

Copyright Ron Kraybill 2006.

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Nick Niesen

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Nick Niesen
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