Conflict management is a valuable skill that all leaders should have, but it’s often one that they lack. In many cases, conflict resolution is not something taught in leadership courses, even though it’s something that managers will have to deal with on a daily basis.
Fortunately, there are multiple forms of conflict management, meaning that leaders, such as managers or supervisors can find the method that works best for them. Also, being proactive about conflict resolution can empower you to spot and fix problems before they get too big or out of control.
So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the five different conflict management styles, how they work, and when they may be best for your situation.
An Overview of the Five Conflict Management Styles
The five different conflict management styles are collaborative, competitive, accommodating, avoidance, and compromise. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s imperative to understand them as much as possible.
Also, realistically, you’ll have to deploy multiple conflict management styles when an incident occurs. Part of improving conflict resolution skills means knowing when to deploy (or avoid) certain strategies.
With each conflict management style, we’ll break down how it works, its pros and cons, and look at a specific example of each one in action.
The collaborating style of conflict management is both the hardest to achieve and often yields the best results. The primary goal of the collaborative conflict management style is to make everyone involved satisfied with the results.
Also, keep in mind that this is different from the compromising conflict management style, which we’ll discuss later. While compromise focuses on everyone having at least partial satisfaction, collaboration aims to make everyone happy.
As you can imagine, making everyone happy after a conflict can be an intense struggle. Depending on the situation, this tactic may even be impossible if both parties involved intensely dislike each other.
Not only can reaching an agreement be difficult, but it can also take time. So, when determining which of the conflict management styles to use, you may have to focus on other factors. For example, if a conflict arises on a project with a tight deadline, there may not be time to reach a comprehensive agreement.
Typically, the collaborating style of conflict management works best when the parties involved have to work closely together in the future. Since it’s in everyone’s best interests to avoid more conflicts, it’s imperative to reach a stable and satisfying arrangement.
Pros and Cons of Collaborating Conflict Management Style
- Pro: Long-Term Solution – When done correctly, this type of conflict resolution can lead to long-lasting results. Not only is everyone involved in the conflict happy, but they’re more willing to work together in the future.
- Con: Time-Consuming – Reaching a comprehensive agreement with everyone can take a long time, especially if the conflict is heated or hurtful. The more time you spend resolving the conflict, the less time you can focus on other aspects of work.
Example of Collaborative Conflict Management
A perfect example of a collaborative workplace conflict would be if two individuals (or departments) are working on the same project. Each person brings different ideas to the table, some of which may contradict or counteract the other.
Since the goal of the project is to create the best product possible, you can work on resolving conflict by incorporating ideas from each person. As an objective third party, you can work through each component and see what will work best for the project as a whole.
Conflict management often means listening to both sides. However, there are some circumstances where that doesn’t work. For example, when you’re up against a deadline, speed is better than collaboration.
The competing style of conflict management can help in these cases. The way this style works as an authority figure is that you make the decision when a disagreement occurs. When two sides can’t make a decision, you step in and make it for them. Or, if you’re involved in a disagreement, you stand firm with your choice without backing down.
Sometimes, the best way to utilize this conflict management strategy is to lean on morals or principles. By focusing on doing the “right” thing, it’s hard for anyone to really push back. However, since most decisions aren’t necessarily based on morals, this doesn’t happen often.
Overall, the competing style of conflict management works best in moderation. If you do it too often, you’ll be seen as bossy and unreasonable. Also, workers won’t be as willing to come forward with ideas or suggestions.
Pros and Cons of Competitive Conflict Management Style
- Pro: Resolves Conflicts Quickly – When there’s no time to waste with traditional conflict management, it makes sense to use your authority. Executive decisions can speed up processes and get the job done faster, especially when the alternative is a drawn-out discussion.
- Con: Can Create Dissent or Resentment – Making decisions for others can streamline the workplace, but don’t do it too often. Dissent happens when workers feel unheard and unvalued, which is the main drawback of the competing conflict management style.
Example of Competitive Conflict Management
The most common example of a competing conflict management style is to step in and make decisions when a conflict arises. For example, if two workers are arguing over a particular task, you can step in and decide for them.
It’s pretty rare for conflicts on either side of a moral debate to happen, but let’s say that there was a conflict about sourcing materials for a product. The current supplier has lower prices, but they use destructive practices to get the materials. A different supplier uses sustainable practices, but they cost more.
In this situation, you could stand firm on switching suppliers, even though others may be focused on the bottom line.
As the name suggests, the accommodating conflict management style means you accommodate others over yourself. As a manager, this happens when employees or co-workers press an issue with you. Instead of arguing or butting heads, you let them have their way.
Overall, the accommodating style of conflict management can work well for small issues, but it can backfire for larger ones. Also, if you accommodate too often, you can seem less like a leader and more like a doormat.
Fortunately, with some creativity, you can make this strategy work in your favor. As with all conflict management styles, how you approach the situation matters.
For example, you can push back on ideas to ensure that the other person can articulate why they want it done their way. Then, you can yield to their decision, making it seem like they earned it by suggesting the best idea. This way, you can still accommodate the other person without seeming like a pushover.
Pros and Cons of the Accommodating Style of Conflict Management
- Pro: Alleviates Tension and Resolves Conflicts Quickly – Accommodating other people can make them feel more satisfied and less likely to resort to conflict in the future. Plus, this practice can make it easier to resolve issues before they explode.
- Con: Can Make You Look Weak or Indecisive – If you accommodate others too much, they’ll learn to walk all over you. In some cases, employees may not even discuss ideas with you because they assume you’ll approve. Over time, your authority will erode, making it harder to reclaim later on.
Example of Accommodating Conflict Management
As we mentioned, the simplest example of an accommodating conflict management style is when someone presses you on an issue. Let’s say that a product can come in two different colors. You prefer one color, but the other person prefers the other. Instead of arguing about it, you let them get their choice because you don’t feel as strongly about it.
When compared to other conflict management styles, avoidance may seem to be the least productive. After all, avoiding a conflict doesn’t necessarily make it go away. In many cases, avoidance can actually worsen the problem.
However, there are instances where this management style can come in handy. For example, if you need more time to think about the issue. In this situation, you could schedule a meeting to discuss the conflict later on when you’re better prepared.
Overall, this style can be tricky to master. If you avoid conflicts too often, that can lead to secondary problems like dissent and resentment. Typically, you want to confront large conflicts head-on, but it’s okay to avoid smaller ones, at least temporarily.
Pros and Cons of Avoiding Conflict Management Style
- Pro: Can Lead to Better Resolutions – One of the best reasons to use the avoiding management style is to allow everyone to calm down. Usually, emotions can run high during a conflict, leading to worse outcomes. By giving everyone space, they can regain their composure and approach the situation with calm later on.
- Con: Can Worsen Conflicts or Lead to Dissent – At some point, you have to address a conflict. So, if you avoid it for too long, it could lead to a bigger problem or more heated exchange. Overall, this management style should be used sparingly.
Example of Avoidance Conflict Management
A fantastic example of avoidance conflict management is to separate individuals engaged in a conflict until a later date. This gives each person time to calm down and articulate their thoughts, and they can work on a resolution from a more reasonable point of view.
For example, if two employees are arguing about something in the office, you could step in and tell them to return to their workstations. Then, you can schedule a conflict resolution meeting for later in the day (or the following day).
As long as there is a follow-up, you should be able to resolve the situation more easily than if you talked to each person immediately following the incident.
Whereas collaboration focuses on a “win-win” situation, the compromising style is often seen as a “lose-lose” tactic. Both parties have to give up something to reach an agreement, so neither person is fully satisfied.
Typically, a compromising style works best when both sides are technically correct, or if there’s no way for both options to work. Since each person has to give up something, they’re more willing to go along with the agreement.
Compromise can seem like a great way to resolve conflict, but it’s not always ideal for long-term solutions. Since both parties had to give something up, they could feel resentful about it later on. Instead, it’s best to use this option when collaboration is out of the question (i.e., because of time constraints).
Pros and Cons of Compromising Conflict Management
- Pro: Can Resolve Conflicts Quickly – As with other styles of conflict management, the goal is to find a solution quickly. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but as long as it works, it should be okay. This strategy works best when time doesn’t allow for collaboration.
- Con: Doesn’t Address Core Issues – Just because someone is willing to compromise doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. This conflict management approach can backfire if it leads to resentment and future conflicts. Sometimes, one party may feel that they’re losing too much (or too often) and will want to retaliate.
Example of Compromising Conflict Management
An excellent example of a compromise for conflict resolution is for both parties to get at least some of what they want. So, let’s say that one person wants to spend money on targeted ads, while another wants to use the money for social media promotions.
A compromise could be to use half the budget for each option. This way, both parties get what they want, although not as much as they had hoped.
How to Tell Which Management Style Works for You
With this quiz, rank yourself from one to five on each question. The section that has the most points is the style that would fit you best. Again, it’s best to use pieces from different conflict resolution styles instead of relying on one option.
So, just because you tend to focus on one method doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) use another.
Collaboration Conflict Management
- I try to see all sides of an issue before making a decision.
- When a conflict arises, my primary goal is to make everyone happy.
- I believe that open communication is essential for conflict resolution.
Competitive Conflict Management
- When I’m involved in a conflict, I need to be right.
- I know that I always make the best decision, so it’s up to me to get others to see that.
- When conflicts get bogged down, I have to step in and use my authority to get the job done.
Accommodating Conflict Management
- It’s often easier to let the other person win an argument than it is to draw the argument out.
- I usually don’t feel strongly enough about a topic to argue with someone about it.
- I would rather make others happy with their decisions than push back on them.
Avoidance Conflict Management
- I am not comfortable in situations with direct confrontation.
- I try to avoid conflicts as much as possible, even if that means letting someone else get what they want.
- I am okay with “losing” my side of an argument to avoid stress.
Compromising Conflict Management
- It’s better to solve a problem than it is to make everyone happy.
- I’m okay with settling for a different solution to move things along.
- I don’t like it when conflicts are drawn out. I’d rather find a solution, even if I don’t get exactly what I want.
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Regardless of the management style that works best for you, our training can help you realize your full potential. Schedule a consultation today and see how well conflict resolution can help your organization.