Different strategies for dealing with conflict
Avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise and collaboration are the five usual ways of dealing with conflict.
Avoidance is very commonly used, and involves avoiding the person or the situation involved in the conflict. This method isn’t usually helpful as nothing is resolved, but it may be necessary if you feel too vulnerable to cope with the situation
Accommodation is where you ‘submit’ to the conflict, e.g. by listening to unhelpful criticism and believing it. If you have low self-esteem you are more likely to use this method. Like avoidance, it is not a very successful method of resolving issues. It could be used if you know a solution is coming soon from an outside source
Competition is where the conflict becomes a ‘fight’, e.g. a colleague tells your manager you’ve been leaving early, so you retaliate by telling your manager that they’ve been stealing supplies. This often leads to the conflict escalating. It also means you are lowering yourself to the other person’s level
Compromise is where you work out a solution where you both ‘give a little’, e.g. if your colleague wants help with their project, you offer to help them with half of it. This is a more useful strategy but it can leave both parties feeling a little disappointed
Collaboration is where you commit to working together to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to both of you - a ‘win-win’ situation. This method is explained in more detail below.
How to collaborate
Collaboration can feel risky as it involves being very clear about your needs and having an open conversation with the other person to try and understand their point of view. To collaborate successfully, you need to:
Recognize that part of the responsibility for the conflict is your own. You may have avoided addressing the conflict earlier, or you may have reasons for your position that you haven’t been open about. Taking responsibility for this may encourage the other person to do the same.
Learn how to manage yourself during the conversation, e.g. how to relax if you are likely to become angry, or how to be more assertive if you lack confidence. It might help to have a third person present for your conversation. Getting emotional during the conversation is unlikely to be helpful.
Have confidence in what you are saying. Make sure this comes across by maintaining eye contact, having positive body language and not sitting while the other person is standing.
Try to focus on the behaviour and not on the person, e.g. ‘I find it difficult to concentrate when you talk loudly’ rather than ‘you’re such an awful gossip’.
Try and find out why the other person feels the way they do – if you can understand each other’s reasons then you’ll be more likely to come up with a solution that suits both of you.
Remember that people who enjoy creating conflict are often re-enacting difficulties from their lives previously – seeing their behaviour in this way may help you to be empathetic and will mean the conflict is more likely to be resolved.