Workplace conflict is bound to happen. When individuals are passionate and committed to their accountability for results, differing opinions will arise on decisions, resource allocation, and direction.
You can’t (and shouldn’t) eliminate conflict, as disagreements can have a positive impact. One study found that workplace conflict led to better solutions to problems, significant innovations, increased motivation, a better understanding of others, and higher team performance.
However, harnessing the positive outcomes of conflict and avoiding the pitfalls of hurt feelings, emotional stress, and non-cooperation comes down to self-awareness of your natural tendency to use a specific conflict management style. To take it one step further, understanding the conflict styles of your peers and employees ensures you respond in the best way, which leads to growth, not work disruptions. You can learn your style and have your peers do the same by completing our Conflict Management Styles Quiz.
What are Conflict Management Styles?
Conflict management styles categorize the different ways individuals approach and respond to conflict at work. Developed in the 1970s by two psychologists, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, their Thomas-Kilmann Model suggests there are five unique approaches to conflict: collaborating, competing, compromising, accommodating, and avoiding.
What are the Qualities of Each Conflict Management Style?
Each one of the five conflict styles has its own advantages and drawbacks. No one conflict style is better than the other. The key is to be mindful of the approach you take to conflict as well as having a deeper understanding of the other styles will enable you to approach specific scenarios in a way that leads to better outcomes.
- Collaborating Conflict Style
- Competing Conflict Style
- Compromising Conflict Style
- Accommodating Conflict Style
- Avoiding Conflict Style
Collaborating Conflict Management Style
As the name suggests, this conflict management style is keen to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution when a conflict in the workplace arises. They don’t avoid conflict, but they also don’t go into a disagreement with a win-at-all-cost mentality. Their goal is to minimize bad feelings while reaching an agreement where all parties feel heard and come out ahead.
Positive Traits of Collaborating Conflict Management Style:
- Negotiating a win-win
- Creative problem-solving
- Ensures everyone feels valued and esteemed
Competing Conflict Management Style
The competing conflict style focuses on ensuring their point is heard, and they determine the direction going forward is theirs. This conflict style is ideally used during an emergency or crisis when change needs to happen quickly and the consequence of inaction or indecisiveness could put individuals' safety or the business at risk. However, when used too frequently or in the wrong situations, especially by leaders, individuals will become frustrated, withdrawn, and unengaged as negotiating a resolution is impossible.
Positive Traits of Competing Conflict Management Style:
- Efficient problem-solving
- Decisive and steadfast during an emergency or crisis
- Drives change quickly
Compromising Conflict Management Style
Compromising conflict style is all about meeting in the middle. Unlike the collaborating style, where negotiations occur to ensure a win-win situation for both parties, the compromising style has both parties negotiating to give up some aspects to meet in the middle. There is open communication as the focus is on both parties forgoing something to resolve the conflict.
Positive Traits of Compromising Conflict Management Style:
- Open communication
- Fair and willing to trade-off
- Reduced stress and tension as the dispute is resolved quickly
Accommodating Conflict Management Style
Smoothing over and giving in during a disagreement to preserve the relationship and ensure the conflict is resolved quickly is the hallmark of the accommodating conflict management style. This style does not voice their opinion. Instead, it seeks to eliminate conflict so individuals or a team can continue to work together and remain focused on the outcome they’re trying to achieve.
Positive Traits of Accommodating Management Style:
- Focused on harmony, peace, and eliminating arguments
- Preserves relationships
- Conflict is resolved instantly so attention can return to the goal or project
Avoiding Conflict Management Style
Avoiding conflict style does not pursue to have their opinions heard, nor is willing to hear the other persons. So much so they actively try to avoid the person or the topic of disagreement. They will evade conversations, cancel meetings, and quickly change the subject, hoping these delays will make the conflict go away.
Positive Traits of Avoiding Management Style:
- Allows time to cool down and do some self-reflection of the situation
- Conflict is not unnecessarily escalated, especially when trivial
- Time to prepare and collect information and input before confronting conflict
Conclusion: You Can Prepare for Workplace Conflict
Misunderstandings, conflicting goals, and differing priorities inevitably lead to conflict in the workplace. Fortunately, you can control your response to said conflict. To feel better prepared for when disagreements arise and overcome the negative feelings associated with conflict, attend training that teaches you the skills and tools needed to have difficult conversations. This type of training will help you see the positive aspects of conflict and manage your emotions in these heated situations to ensure the outcome is positive.
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Compromising Conflict Style: A Brief Overview
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