Does your organization encounter a lot of team conflict? Do team members struggle to communicate effectively? There are many different types of conflict styles, and choosing the right style is critical to managing conflict effectively.
Learn how to best utilize the five conflict handling styles and how to reduce interpersonal conflict in the workplace with simple conflict resolution strategies.
What Are Conflict Styles?
Conflict styles, sometimes called conflict resolution styles, conflict management styles, or conflict handling styles, are the ways in which people choose to deal with conflict. There isn’t one perfect way to deal with conflict, as not every conflict we face is exactly the same. The way we might resolve a conflict with our romantic partner is likely quite different from the way we might manage conflict with a coworker or client. We need to alter our conflict style depending on a number of different considerations.
It’s also important to note that conflict doesn’t need to be negative. It’s a good thing if the people on your team feel comfortable enough with each other to express their opinions and stand behind them. Conflict is a natural outcome of group decision making, as every group and every team is made up of individuals with individual opinions and worldviews. Conflict is necessary to achieve consensus.
There are five conflict management styles: avoiding, accommodating, compromising, collaborating, and competing. Some are better than others for dealing with conflict, but there are situations for every style.
Resolving a conflict about what to order for lunch doesn’t hold as much importance, for example, compared to resolving a conflict about a team project. If you’re on a team of five and four people want mushrooms on their pizza, you may choose the accommodating conflict management style and accept the wishes of your four teammates. After all, if you really don’t like mushrooms, you can remove them from your slice.
What to consider when choosing a conflict style:
- The importance of the issue
- Your investment in the situation
- The consequences of the situation (risks of prolonged conflict)
- Your relationship with the other person/people
- The personality/communication style of the other person/people
- How much time/energy you have available
- Are there moral issues or beliefs you need to take into account?
The 5 Conflict Handling Styles
Just like the name suggests, the avoiding conflict style sidesteps the conflict entirely. A person using this style wouldn’t take either side of a conflict and choose instead to ignore it. This would be an inappropriate style to choose when dealing with a serious issue, such as an employee harassing another employee, but not all situations are so serious.
If coworkers are bickering about who they think should have won The Bachelor and you don’t watch that show, it would be pointless for you to get in the middle of it. The conflict will fizzle out or resolve itself without your involvement.
If a conflict has nothing to do with you, you don’t have time to deal with it, or you don’t have a strong opinion either way, the avoiding conflict style is an appropriate one to choose.
The accommodating conflict management style sacrifices your own needs in order to accommodate the needs of others. You leave your own wants and needs at the door in order to do what someone else wants.
You could be persuaded into choosing this style, you may choose it because you realize there’s no point in arguing any further, you may not care about the issue as much as the other person, or your focus may be on keeping the peace.
Every situation is different, and while it’s easy to dismiss this conflict style as weak, that’s not necessarily the case. Conflict resolution isn’t about ensuring you win every conflict you enter—it’s about accurately reading the situation and minimizing negativity. If prolonging the conflict is only making things worse, sometimes it’s best for someone to be accommodating.
The compromising conflict management style attempts to partly satisfy both sides of an argument, meaning both opposing parties will have to adjust in order to find a reasonable middle ground.
This style doesn’t leave everyone completely satisfied, but it becomes necessary when finding any solution is more important than finding the perfect solution, such as when you’re faced with a rapidly approaching deadline, the compromise is only temporary, or when you’ve reached a stalemate.
The competing conflict management style refuses to compromise or see the perspectives of others involved. People choosing this style take a firm stance and refuse to budge until they get what they want.
While it’s important to be a team player and get along with team members, there are times when it’s necessary to choose this style, such as when you’re standing up for your morals, rights, or values, or when a terrible decision is about to be made, and you have exhausted the other less forceful conflict styles.
The collaborating conflict style attempts to find a solution that will completely satisfy all parties involved in the conflict. As opposed to finding a middle ground that requires both sides to compromise, this style seeks to find a win-win solution that both sides find mutually acceptable.
It’s necessary to adopt this style when the relationship between the parties is important, the views of multiple stakeholders must be represented, or when the final solution carries too much weight to afford a compromise.
Interpersonal Conflict Resolution Strategies
Choose the Best Conflict Style Based on the Situation
There’s not a single conflict style that can be applied to every situation, which is why it’s important to assess the situation objectively before rushing in like a bull in a china shop.
When choosing a conflict style, first consider the consequences of the conflict, how much value you place on the issue, and whether or not you have the requisite time and energy to invest in what could be a long and tedious process.
Understand Different Personality Types and Communication Preferences
In an ideal world, everyone would understand their own tendencies and be able to objectively assess the most appropriate conflict style. However, all too often, most people jump into conflict using the style that feels most natural to them.
Everyone has their own communication preferences and understanding these preferences can help you navigate conflict and choose the best conflict management style.
For example, your loud and assertive coworker may steamroll over you if you choose an avoiding or accommodating conflict style. This may be alright if you’re not that invested in the situation, but if the conflict does hit close to home, you may need to take on a more competing conflict style in order to get their attention and make your needs heard.
A shy and introverted coworker may struggle to be heard during a conflict. To ensure the conflict is amicably resolved, you may need to focus on being more accommodating than usual. Jumping into the conflict with a competing style could scare them into agreeing with you and prevent them from actually speaking their mind, meaning the situation will never truly be resolved in their eyes.
How do you determine communication preferences? We chose to utilize the DiSC personality assessment at Blue Summit Supplies to better understand each others’ preferences. We’re also big fans of the Enneagram personality assessment and how Enneagrams can be utilized to better understand workplace personalities.
Learn more about Enneagrams at work:
- An Introduction to Enneagrams at Work: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Careers
- How to Use Enneagrams to Understand Your Coworkers
- How to Use Enneagrams to Become a Better Manager or Leader
- How to Use Enneagrams to Navigate Your Boss’ Personality
Build a Culture of Trust in the Workplace
Trust is an essential element of resolving conflict in the workplace. Conflict is a necessary part of effective decision making, no matter how tight-knit your team is. Without conflict and discussion, ideas are never challenged. And if ideas are never challenged, they’ll never improve.
Trust between team members ensures that conflicts about ideas or the direction to take a project don’t descend into bickering and negative emotions. Team members need to trust that everyone on the team has their best interests as well as the best interests of the company at heart.
Trusting teams are better at collaborating, communicating, and making effective decisions. Intentionally cultivate a culture of trust in your workplace by giving team members the time and space to resolve conflicts as well as the tools they need to do so.
Help teams understand the different ways conflict can be resolved and provide time for team members to get to know each others’ natural communication preferences.
📚 Learn How to Build Trust in the Workplace.
Bring Conflict Management to Team Building
Team trust doesn’t just happen. Trust must be built intentionally, especially if you manage a remote team. A great way to intentionally build trust is through team building activities. Team building activities boost employee wellbeing and team morale, increase productivity, and attract and retain employees.
There are a wide variety of interesting and educational team building activities out there for both in-person and remote teams. It’s important to provide opportunities for your team to have fun together, but it’s just as important to plan some conflict resolution exercises or an entire conflict management workshop to get your team on the same page about how to resolve conflicts within the team.
Provide Conflict Resolution Training
If you want to go deeper than a few exercises or if your team frequently struggles with conflict resolution, consider investing in workplace conflict resolution training.
Don’t overlook the power of investing in training. Everyone on your team has a different frame of reference and level of experience when it comes to conflict management. Use proper training to get everyone aligned on the best practices surrounding collaborative conflict resolution so that your team can continue to expand the trust and comfort they have working with each other.
More from Blue Summit Supplies
💡 Transparent Communication in the Workplace
💡 Actionable Strategies for Better Communication in the Workplace
We’re passionate about understanding communication preferences to improve workplace efficiency, trust, and collaboration. Follow our office supplies blog for the latest office trends, team building strategies, communication advice, and more.
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