Leveraging the Power of Conflict (Part II of IV)
by Academy Leadership
Conflict Management Strategies
People generally have a dominant style in dealing with conflict based upon their personality, experience and assumptions. These styles can be categorized in one of five general approaches, each having predictable results:
- Avoid — withdraw from the conflict or create physical separation between conflicting parties; can also involve suppressing opinions and avoiding any discussion of disagreement. This approach fails to achieve the goals of any of the competing parties. However, it can be a useful preliminary strategy to allow a cooling off period for conflicting parties. If used as a conflict management strategy, it generally fails since the conflict has not been dealt with and is more than likely to surface again.
- Accommodate — often requires one or more conflicting party to give in on an important issue for the sake of moving on. It generally fails since at least one person or group will perceive a loss in the interest of a win for another. This strategy does have the benefit of preserving harmony and avoiding disruption. It is also a useful short-term strategy as long as the loser does not perceive the lost issue to be a central one. However, resolving the issue in this manner decreases the probability that the same concession will be possible the next time there is conflict. This approach also generally limits creativity and stops the exploration for new ideas and solutions to the problem.
- Compete — this is hardly a resolution strategy. In these cases, conflicting parties seek to achieve their own goals. The conflict is usually resolved by relying on authority, rules or policy. Although this strategy may be appropriate when quick, decisive action is required or when the leader believes that he or she knows the right action to take, it is usually dysfunctional in the long run. Outcomes like this set up the classic win/lose situation in which one party is clearly defined as the winner and the other as the loser. This approach also limits creativity and stops exploration for new ideas and solutions to problems.
- Compromise — this is the first of two solution-oriented strategies. Although parties seek to satisfy their own interests, they consider the interests of other parties. This approach generally involves some sort of negotiation during which each party gives up something in order to gain something else. The underlying assumption is that there is a fixed resource or sum that is to be split, and that through compromise neither party will end up the loser. The disadvantage is that neither party ends up the winner, and people often remember what they had to give up in order to get what they wanted.
- Collaborate — like the compromise approach, this is a solution-oriented strategy in which conflicting parties pursue their interests while respecting the interests of others. Collaboration differs from compromise in that in this approach there is no underlying assumption of a fixed resource that will force everyone to give up something in order to gain something else. Rather, the assumption is made that by creatively engaging the problem, a solution can be generated in which everyone is a winner and everyone is better off. This approach has the benefit of building cohesion and morale. The downside to this approach is that it is generally more time consuming than the other approaches.