- 30 Mar 2011
Personal conflict styles are the usual and consistent ways that people use to deal with conflicts. There are different ways to describe these different styles; The way to describe them that is most often used is the one based on cooperation and assertiveness. This is based on the two main factors that determine the conflict: the goal you have in the conflict and its priority and the relation you have with the party or parties that you are in conflict with.The styles that are defined on these scales of cooperation and assertiveness are avoidance, collaborating, compromising competing and accomodating (Trainingsboek Conflicthantering en mediation, Hugo Prein, 2001
, based on the modes defined by
K.Thomas and R.Kilmann). We will now discuss how these styles are defined.
In this way of handling situations there is little care for others and the person is not assertive. There can be two main motives: the undersocial motive and the underassertive motive;
– Someone with an undersocial attitude behaves neutral and indifferent, the conflict is being denied and all initiative for contact is left to someone else. This attitiude can result from fear of rejection.
– With the under assertive attitude the person inferior doesn't have the courage to take responsibility. This attitude is common with people that feel powerless.
If problems are avoided, after some time, people can develop a feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction. These feelings are usually not shown towards others, but are a passive, hidden anger which can result in opposing actions and sabotage. Besides the more neurotic forms of avoidance discussed above, people can also choose to use avoidance awarely. It can be usefull for instance when the conflict is not worth spending effort on or when there is a disturbed power relationship between the two parties in conflict.
When collaborating, someone strives to meet their own goals and wishes, but the person also takes the relationship with the other party into account. First, the underlying conflict should be clear and after that they strive for a win-win situation by using arguments for both opinions. A downside of this approach is, that when people wish to work together no matter what, sometimes it is not possible to find a solution because the goals cannot be united. In a more neurotic form people can be busy confronting all the time, even when conflicts are not essential or important. Therefore, it takes a lot of time and effort.
Forcing is a very assertive way of conflict handling in which the own goals are considered most important and the relationship with others is not taken into account. Because the conflict is seen totally disconnected from themselves and the other parties, a forcing person can be very convinced about his/her own idea and pursue it at the cost of others. Usually a distinction is made between a destructive form of forcing and a strategical form of forcing. In the last form people keep social rules in mind and do not use agressive methods to get their way. In the destructive way people do use agressive methods and people can physically harm each other on purpose.
This conflict handling style is mainly focused on maintaining a good relationship with others. This is often at the expense of own goals and wishes. People that handle this style will try to keep peace and calm everyone down when it comes to an open conflict. Own goals and wishes are considered less important than other people's. More neurotic forms can appear when people are very insecure and are afraid of being abandoned, therefore they can tend to depend on others. Often the emotional arguments are very important for them in conflicts. People that use yielding tend to be very good at putting themselves in the position of others and therefore can be very good in the role of a third party.
In compromising, the cost of the conflict is usually higher than the cost of giving up part of your goal or wishes. Compromising is in the middle of the Thomas Kilmann figure on both axes of cooperation and assertiveness. So you have to be willing to cooperate, but you will also hang on to part of your goals/wishes. The final solution is partially satisfying for everyone, but for no-one an ideal outcome. Compromising is useful when a decision has to be made and there is no opportunity to solve it by collaborating.
"Group work is adequate and involves a lot of compromise." - Calum Coombs, student industrial design at the Glasgow School of Art.
When to use and when not to use certain styles
Usually people tend to have a preference of using a certain style in most cases, but of course no-one uses the same style in every situation. Most people use styles that are in a somewhat grey area and are a mixture of the previously discussed styles. By keeping in mind the styles you can use in a conflict, you can adjust your style to the situation. The two main influencing factors which have to be considered; your own goal with its priority and the relationship you have with the conflicting party. Here are some examples of when certain styles are applicable and when they are not.
Personality factors involved
Personal conflict styles are the usual and consistent ways that people use to deal with conflicts. This is often described as behaviour, but also psychological bagage is very important. The factors that are involved are:
- Motives (fear of abandonement, jalousy, need for safety)
- Motivation and emotion (embarrassment, anger, excitement, pride, hope)
- Cognitive orientation (the way in which information is processed to something we can understand/use)
- Values and moral orientation
- Gender differences
- Cultural differences
Conflict Handling Styles in relation to the Jungian Dimensions
The way people deal with situations in general can be categorized by the Jungian dimensions. In essence Jungian dimensions describe the different ways with which individuals observe (perceive), assess (judge), and enact (introversion, extraversion) some behavioral choices. The jungian dimensions worked really well in predicting conflict styles of people. There are four Jungian dimensions (as operationalized by Myers, 1962)
- sensation-intuition = percieving (senses-attaching perspective)
- thinking-feeling = judge (analytical, logical – subjective, personal value)
- judging-perceiving (taking in data – coming to conclusions)
- introversion-extraversion (doing things, interaction with environment – ideas feelings
People tend to develop a preference in all these cases, so between sensation-intuition and thinking-feeling. But also between judging-perceiving and introversion-extraversion. According to Jung it is not possible in the first two cases to do both at the same time. With judging-percieving it does not matter whether a person has a preference to think or feel, it's both possible.
A research conducted by Ralph H. Kilmann and Kenneth W. Thomas
, 1975 among 86 male students showed the folowing results:
- The way people perceive information has no significant influence on their conflict handling ways.
- Individuals who tend to rely more on feelings than on thinking, tend to be less assertive and more cooperative than individuals who make decisions by thinking. Greater reliance upon feeling tends to accompany greater accommodation toward others. This emphasis on accommodation seems to be reflected in a tendency for people that rely more on feeling to be less assertive, less willing to compete, but more willing to be cooperative.
- Whether people have a tendency to judge or percieve does not seem to have a consistent influence on the conflict handling styles.
- In general, extrovert individuals tend to be more integrative and somewhat more assertive and cooperative. There were no tendencies for extraversion to be related to giving vs. taking, but weaker tendencies were found for extraversion to be negatively related to avoiding and positively related to collaborating.
This suggests that we can say that the Jungian dimensions on judging and introversion-extraversion in fact have a relation to the conflict styles people use. Therefore your personlity style is directly connected to your conflict handling style.
- Be aware of which styles you usually use in different situations
- Consider applying a different style to gain more experience in dealing with conflicts (real life/roleplay)
- Always consider the two main factors: how important is your goal and how important is the relationship with the people involved