If everything we’ve discussed to this point has the unstated intention of avoiding conflict, it must be acknowledged that preventative measures like these are rarely perfect.
To put it politely, conflict happens.
In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann argued that people typically have a preferred conflict resolution style, that is a function of the extent they are both assertive and cooperative. However they also noted that each style had an appropriate usage, depending upon the situation.
Avoiders tend to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default positions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible; when controversy is trivial; or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However for the sports manager – who we know is expected to be a decision maker – avoiding is, in many situations, a weak and ineffective response.
Accommodating indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative.
Accommodation is appropriate when the issue matters more to the other party; when peace is more valuable than winning; or when you want to be in a position to collect on a “favour” you gave. However people may not return favours, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes to the accommodator.
People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability.
This style can be useful when decisions need to be made fast (as is often the case in sport); when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.
People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important.
This style is useful when you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off. Despite being seen as win-win; true collaboration takes much more time to achieve than the other responses, which is often at odds with the time constraints placed on some situations.
People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, including the person leading the conflict resolution. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground; when equal strength opponents are at a standstill; and when there is a deadline looming; even though this may come at the cost of “dumbing down” ideas.
Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you’re in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary.
Ideally you can adopt an approach that meets the situation, resolves the problem, respects people’s legitimate interests, and mends damaged relationships.
So what is your preferred or default conflict resolution style?
Take the quiz that follows to see!