What’s Your Conflict Style?

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Before any management program I facilitate, I like to ask the
participants what they hope to get out of the session to improve their
leadership. Without fail, one of the first topics I hear is conflict
management. Anytime you take more than one person and put them
together, you instantly add more than one expectation and the potential
for those expectations to be incompatible or in conflict. How you deal
with conflict can impact your relationships with co-workers, the
culture of the organization, and the effectiveness of getting things

Conflict expert Kenneth W. Thomas, PhD conducted a survey
on conflict management for the American Management Association. From
his results, he estimated managers spend 18% to 26% of their time
dealing with conflict amongst employees. The number varied depending on
the level of the management position. He concluded this equaled
millions of dollars in lost or unproductive payroll hours for a midsize
to large organization and that investment in improving conflict
management skill sets would pay for itself through productivity gains

When a person approaches any situation, they bring with
them specific needs, wants, ideas, and aspirations. These may be
personal, tied to specific agendas, or just associated with the
individual’s comfort level. When faced with a conflict, our behavior
falls into two basic dimensions: assertive or cooperative.
Assertiveness is the level a person attempts to satisfy her own
concerns. Cooperativeness is the level at which the person tries to
satisfy someone else’s needs. These two dimensions in combination
result in five varying modes for handling or responding to conflict
situations. Let’s take a look briefly at each.

(unassertive and cooperative) – Accommodating is when a person puts the
needs of another before their own. In organizational conflict
situations, this may occur when a boss passes down an order to an
employee that they don’t like, but they just do it anyway. It can
involve sacrificing your own needs for another and over time can result
in employees feeling deflated.

(unassertive and uncooperative) – Avoiding is when a person doesn’t
follow their own needs or embrace the needs of another. He basically
doesn’t do anything with the conflict. Avoiding behavior may involve
people removing themselves from the situation, taking steps to not be
present or postpone dealing with an issue, or taking another approach
to step around the situation.

(assertive and cooperative) – Collaborating is the flipside of
avoidance. In this situation, the person works together with others to
reach a resolution that meets and respects the needs of each person.
Collaborating often requires some exploration by both parties into the
issues that conflict and learning about why each person has different
needs. The goal is to find common ground on the common needs.

(assertive and uncooperative) – Very common in organizations absent of
conflict resolution skills, competing is when a person pursues their
own needs at the expense of others. This manifests itself when managers
argue, use rank, or impose penalties on others to win advantage.
Competing behavior can breed avoidance behavior in others.

(moderate assertive and cooperative) – Different from collaborating,
which tries to explore common ground and come to a collective solution
that meets the needs of both, compromising involves people coming to
consensus on a solution that meets some of the needs of all involved.
This behavior addresses issues more than avoiding but is less
explorative than collaborating. It lets more go than competing, but
less than accommodating. Sometimes attributed to wanting to come to a
quick resolution, it can be associated with finding a middle ground or
an acceptable give and take.

Each of us has a preference for
certain modes over another. This may be the result of the family and
professional experiences we have had or personal preference. We are
each able to use any of the five conflict modes. How you behave is a
culmination of your preferences and the situation you find yourself.
Understanding the different modes and were you and your colleagues lean
can be helpful in diffusing conflict and creating more conflict
resilient management teams that are more productive.

So, what’s your conflict type?

DMWAustin (www.DMWAustin .com) is qualified to administer and interpret the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument.

Re-purposed from an article originally published in Best Practices in Emergency Services