The diagram above shows two continuum's, cooperative vs. uncooperative, and assertive vs. unassertive. Each of these dimensions have a positive and a negative connotation, depending on the circumstance. Below I will explain the five styles and show the appropriate setting for each. But first, before reading about these conflict/negotiating models, take a look at your own style. Understanding your style and the method preferred by your leadership team will help you engage in healthy dialog. Here you will find an online survey that will help you determine your preferred method. In working with teams, it is a great asset to understand everyone's Conflict Resolution Style, which is also the preferred Negotiating Style.

When I led the sales team in our business, I learned about the different styles people used in negotiating and resolving conflict. I came to understand how important this knowledge can be when selling tractors that cost tens of thousands of dollars. I worked to help the sales people understand their preferred style, and that of their clients who were our negotiating partners.

On the way to this knowledge, I had seen patterns in the results of the different sales people. Some would always go to the very lowest price they had authority to offer, and then came back asking for more. Others would bring in deals that were at the upper end of the range of acceptable.  I learned who I could allow some leeway, and who I needed to keep on a short leash in negotiating. Later I found these sales people operated with different negotiating styles.

Five Conflict Styles

There are five methods of resolving conflict, and everyone has a preferred style. Often one's preferred style will change under stress.  If our preferred style is not producing results, in high-stress situations one will often shift to another style.  Some instruments help measure both your normal and stress conflict styles. The methods are:

Competing. This is a win-lose style where you take care of your own needs and let the other person take care of him/herself. Competing is high on assertive, and low on cooperation.

Sales people in car dealerships always used to receive this kind of training. When I walk into a car dealership, I don’t mind using this style, because it is often the one employed in the ‘high pressure’ sales environment. I have to take care of myself, because no one else will look after my needs. When car dealers offer ‘no haggle’ pricing, they have realized that consumers no longer like the win/lose approach, and are trying to differentiate by eliminating high-pressure negotiating techniques. Avoiding. People who are have a high value for harmony will often avoid conflict.  They seek to keep out of the fight, and are hard to engage in negotiating difficult issues where there is no solution that can please everyone. Where you see churches on a long plateau or in decline, the church has often adopted a culture of avoidance, sweeping conflict under the rug. This is a good style when the stakes are low, and you can avoid the situation without negative consequence. When you encounter an intoxicated, belligerent person at a sporting event, it is often best to engage in conflict avoidance. This style is both unassertive and uncooperative.

Accommodating. This is a Lose-Win style where you yield to others needs and do not satisfy your own. There are times when this style is appropriate. We all find times when it is best to yield to a friend or a spouse if the outcome is more important to them than it is for you. I have always tended to yield in matters of child care for my kids and now for my grandkids to my wife’s lead. In other areas, she accommodates my needs. The problem with this style is that people often fall into a pattern of giving in and they begin to feel somewhat victimized after a while. I had a teammate in my Executive MBA who had this style. He thought of himself as collecting chits. I told him that was fine, as long as he also cashed in those chits from time to time, and did not just find himself yielding on every important issue. People who operate in this mode are not who I would choose for a sales role that involved considerable negotiation. This style is high on cooperation and low on assertiveness.Compromising. Split the difference. This style is right in the middle of the chart. It is somewhat cooperative, and somewhat assertive. The problem with this style is that you can end up with a solution that really pleases no one. In the Biblical story, two women come before Solomon, arguing over who is the mother of a baby. Solomon proposes a compromise. I’ll just cut the baby in half and you can each have half. This is the most obvious downside to compromise, that it can turn into a lose/lose solution. 

Collaborating. This is a win-win style. It is equal parts cooperative and assertive. This is the healthiest negotiating/conflict style, but sometimes it takes too large an investment of time and energy to be worthwhile. Because it requires of us that we listen and find solutions that will equally meet both parties needs, it is time and energy intensive. Anyone who has gone on vacation with a large group understands how challenging it can be to find solutions that please everyone. It can make a big commotion out of just deciding where to go for dinner. On large stake problems, this negotiating style can provide the best long term solutions, because both sides come away with a win.

When I first encountered conflict style instruments, I found that my natural style was to Compromise. In stressful situations, when compromise would not work, I would shift into the Compete mode. I would try to find a middle ground, and if that failed, I would shift into protecting my interests.

I have learned you can adjust your conflict style. I made a conscious choice that I wanted to adopt the Collaborative style of conflict resolution. When I find myself entering a high stakes negotiation, I announce up front that I want to work with the other parties to seek a win for all sides. As long as I have a good faith partner working collaboratively, we can find a solution this way. If the other side will not cooperate in this mode, I will shift into the compete mode and work to secure my interests.

Sources of Conflict. There are multiple sources for conflict. Being aware of what might be underlying the conflict can be quite helpful.

Values Conflict. We all have values.  The most deeply held values are our core values.  Attitudes we hold are based on our values.  We often experience cognitive dissonance, a sense that something isn't right.  This often occurs when our roles come into conflict.  Our roles as parent or husband often conflict with our role at work.  When our values conflict, we find dissonance. When our values are in conflict with those held by the organization's leaders, it will lead to conflict and/or compromise.

Differing Goals and Priorities are often the most common driver of conflict. With the nature of multi-project corporate environments in which people often work, people frequently find themselves serving on a variety of project teams.  When priorities are unclear, frustration and stress occur, leading to conflict.

Personality and interpersonal areas of conflict are also common.  This is probably related to the use of cross functional teams in which individuals from diverse backgrounds must rely on each other to accomplish their own objectives.  Interestingly, the very diversity that brings strength to a team can be one of its greatest sources of conflict. Here, understanding personality style is helpful in growing to appreciate diversity. Learn about your personality style here. http://godsfaintpath.com/myers-briggs

Communication as a source of conflict is probably closely related to the goals and priorities issue above. Communication of clear plans and schedules, regular team feedback, and more frequent status meetings make organizations more effective. During times of change and restructuring, In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter says we often under communicate by a factor of ten.

From your marriage to your workplace, from church to work in your community, learning your conflict/negotiating style, and those of people close to you will be a wonderful investment in healthier relationships. May this knowledge be a blessing to you in career, marriage and family, church and neighborhood.

Update: I just read an Alban post called Myth-Busting: Emotional Intelligence, Conflict Competence and the Clergy, by Susan Nienaber and Mark Sundby. It made an interesting point about the Conflict Style of pastors.

The data from our study are clear. Of the five conflict management styles on the Thomas-Kilmann inventory (collaborating, compromising, competing, accommodating, and avoiding), the two dimensions that predict to lower scores for emotional intelligence among pastors are the overuse of accommodating and avoiding. By developing other conflict skills, especially when things are calm, clergy can be more flexible in intense situations that require them to think on their feet.