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Choosing An Effective Response to Conflict

June 23, 2014

Got conflict?  Many good leaders do.  Our response to conflict determines both its impact and our willingness to continue to lead, innovate and raise the bar in new ways.

Thomas and Kilmann found that we’re better able to respond effectively when we’re comfortable using several conflict strategies, and match the strategy to the situation.

They identified five conflict strategies that incorporate different levels of assertiveness (focused on meeting your concerns) and cooperativeness (focused on meeting other’s concerns).

Each can be a valuable social skill in certain situations, so let’s take a quick look:

slide.001Competing is a power-oriented strategy – useful when winning is what’s important.   High assertive/low cooperative.  “I’m standing up for my rights.”

Collaborating searches for a solution that meets everyone’s concerns.  High assertive/high  cooperative.  “Let’s find a creative win-win.”

Compromising finds a solution that’s “good enough.”  Moderate assertive/moderate cooperative.  “Let’s split the difference.”

Avoiding sidesteps or withdraws from the situation.  Low assertive/low cooperative.  “I’m choosing my battles.”

Accommodating sets aside your concerns to help someone meet theirs.  High cooperative/low assertive.  “This is more important to you than me.”

So which one to use when?  Considerations to guide your choice include:

Importance of the issue:  Not that important to you?  Consider accommodating, avoiding or compromising.  Very important?  Consider competing or collaborating.

Importance of the relationship: Very important?  Accommodating, collaborating and compromising become more attractive.

Time:  The less you have, the more attractive compromising, accommodating, and avoiding become.

Trust:  The lower the trust levels (and the higher the stress levels), the more challenging collaboration becomes.

Complexity:  one-dimensional issues lend themselves to competing, accommodating and compromising.  Multidimensional issues lend themselves to collaboration.

This kind of conflict literacy creates a practical and powerful advantage.  Happily, Kilmann has a tool and many more insights to share.

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