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An Overview of Conflict Styles: A Coaching Tool

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In the heat of a conflict when emotions are high, what do you do?  Do you ignore the issues and bury them or do you let the other person have their way?  Human beings are predisposed to respond to conflict in a certain manner.  Conflict style is a general way of thinking about and responding to conflict.  Roxanne Lulofs and Dudley Cahn, Conflict: From Theory to Action. Neadham Heights, MA:  Allyn & Bacon, 2000.   These choices or conflict styles have been studied by many scholars.  Conflict styles are patterned responses or behaviors that have evolved over time.  William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict.  New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2011.  The most popular classification scheme is that developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann over 35 years ago.  This essay will contain a review of each of these styles.

Interpersonal conflict and the response thereto resides in a two dimensional space which blends the needs of the self and the other.  Assertiveness is the vertical axis measuring the concern for self and cooperativeness is the horizontal axis measuring the concern for the other party in conflict.  Within this space reside the five different conflict styles:  avoidance, accommodation, compromise, competition and collaboration.    All of these styles have useful purposes in certain situations.  The challenge is to know when to vary your style.

Avoidance

A person who avoids conflict has a low concern for herself and for others.  In the two-dimensional space they are uncooperative and unassertive.  Someone who uses avoidance has the ability to side step problems, leave issues unresolved, and allow others to take ownership.  If an issue is unimportant avoidance may be the correct strategy.  However, if you continually avoid conflicts it is like a simmering pot that will eventually boil over.

Accommodation

The skills of an accommodator are selflessness, obedience and an ability to yield.  Accommodation is useful when you want to create goodwill or show reasonableness.  If overused, it can result in restricted influence, loss of contribution, overlooked ideas and anarchy.  If it is underused it can result in low morale and lack of rapport among colleagues. 

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