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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development

The 5 Conflict Management Styles

Why can't we all be friends?

woman handling conflict
Photo courtesy of Tim Gouw

Dealing with conflict is awkward, frightening, and stressful, especially in the workplace when it can feel like jobs are on the line.

That’s where the conflict management styles come in handy.

What is conflict management?

There's more to conflict management than just dealing with issues in the workplace. To properly manage conflict, you’ll need savvy communication skills, refined problem solving abilities, and solid negotiation tactics.

When managing conflict, you’re not just brushing a problem under the table. you’re talking about solutions, hearing from both parties, and arriving at a conclusion that satisfies at least some of those involved

The 5 styles of conflict management

1. Accommodation

If the issue isn’t really a big deal (say deciding between one team event or another) or you think you might be in the wrong, you might consider the accommodation strategy. Accommodation means simply putting others’ needs before your own and giving into their wants (i.e., going with their event suggestion). Whether it’s to save face or maintain a relationship, it’s not known as the most effective conflict management style, but when the problem isn’t a major deal you might consider this option.

2. Avoidance

Avoidance is probably the most common solution, especially in the workplace. Why deal with the problem when you can sweep it under the rug?

Joking aside, avoiding can actually, surprisingly, be the best option sometimes—which is probably good news to a lot of ears (especially mine). If you need to create some distance from an emotional issue, want more time to think on things, or the issue is minor enough to ignore, then avoiding might be your go-to route.

You definitely shouldn’t avoid managing the conflict when there’s an issue of discrimination, abuse, or if someone’s job could be on the line.

3. Compromise

Compromise is all about finding middle ground. Both parties won’t get everything they’re looking for, but it’s an effective way to reach an agreement under time constraints. Sometimes compromise can be seen as loss for both sides since no one gets everything they want, so if possible, try collaboration.

Read more: What Is a Hiring Freeze? How to Get the Facts Before You Freak Out

4. Collaboration

The better-looking cousin of compromise, collaboration is the “win-win” conflict management style. It aims find a solution that satisfies the needs of both parties, rather than settling for a middle ground or picking a side.

While collaboration takes a lot of time and emotional investment—sitting down and thoroughly discussing solutions can take days, or even weeks—it’s the ideal method for conflicts that involve multiple parties or problems that demand a creative solution.

5. Competition

The most aggressive style of conflict management, competition assumes that the other party is incorrect, and the opposing party insists on getting their way. When you put it on paper, it can sound a kind of like a toddler having a temper tantrum, but it’s (usually) more complex in reality.

While competing can be used by people stubbornly digging their heels in, it can also be employed when making an unpopular or moral decision, when time is of the essence, or when trying to prevent someone from steamrolling the situation.

Read more: I Think My Boss Hates Me. Can I Win Them Back?

Putting conflict management strategies to use

Now that you know the management styles and their terminology, it’s time to add them to your arsenal. Workplace conflict can be broken down into two main categories: interpersonal conflict and leadership conflict.

Managing interpersonal conflict

If you work a full-time job, you spend the majority of your week in the workplace around your coworkers. So when someone’s work style doesn’t mesh with yours, it can create conflict. It's bound to happen, and that's pretty normal.

This kind of interpersonal conflict is between two or more coworkers who are more or less on the same level, that is, no one involved is significantly more senior than another.

Before taking the issue to management or HR, attempt to resolve it yourself. Most conflict management styles will work for this with the exception of competition. If you can't solve it without intervention, request help as neutrally as possible. For example, rather than saying, GiGi has horrible ideas that are going to bring down the whole team, but she refuses to collaborate, you might say to the boss, The team is having trouble collaborating, and we need help. I'm concerned that we're producing work we know the client won't like, but egos are getting in the way.

Managing leadership conflict

Unfortunately, not all bosses are good bosses, and dealing with leadership conflict is intimidating for employees. After all, no ones wants to risk their job security just because of a disagreement with their manager.

This kind of conflict is between a boss and a subordinate, direct or not, and it can be the toughest to resolve.

If you're the employee, respectfully voice your concerns to your manager, whether that's expressing a differing opinion on how a task should be completed or expressing that you don't feel respected. If problems persist, you may considering talking to HR.

If you're the boss, put yourself in the other person's shoes. It's not easy to initiate the conversation with your boss, so be gracious toward them. Consider collaboration over competition and compromise over avoidance. As the leader, you have a responsibility to play an active and equal role in resolving the conflict. Use your powers for good.

Read more: How to Survive a Boss You Hate

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