Conflict Management Styles
Hi, my name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy, where we teach coaches from beginners, to executive coach, to team coach, to business coach. It’s all accredited. If you’re interested, you can go to www.intactacademy.com, we’d be happy to welcome you there. The other business I run is Agile Business Innovation, where I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. The goal is to accelerate time to market. People can get stuck in traditional management, bad cooperation, no co-creation with their clients, etc, etc. We help businesses turn into an agile and innovative business in 38 weeks. You’re very welcome to find out more by going to www.agilebusinessinnovation.com.
At the moment, I’m really interested in conflict, it’s because of COVID, but also because of some of the ethical issues I’m faced with at the moment in my profession. I’m a professional coach, I’m a professional consultant and I’m realizing that people are kind of sliding down the scale in these extreme times. I also see it internationally, it’s almost like there’s a split between people who are going for individual well being and people who are going for communal well being. If we continue making that split worse, our conflicts will get worse as well. This is difficult to deal with if we don’t realize we’re all dependent on each other.
I mean, we can talk about dealing with COVID, and then people think “a life is a life and we’ll create a vaccine”. What are we doing for climate change? You know, COVID almost becomes irrelevant if we didn’t do anything about climate change. I’m wondering about that. How can we mobilize billions of euros for COVID vaccines when we can’t deal with climate change in the past 20 years? I’ve been thinking about that and thinking about conflict. What is it? Is it that we don’t recognize enough that we’re dependent on each other for that, and how can we teach people to deal with conflict with differences so that they actually stay in dialogue? That’s my preoccupation at the moment.
So we’ve talked about what conflict is, we’ve talked about types of conflict and levels of conflict. I want to talk a little bit about conflict management styles. I’m rereading the classics at the moment. One of my favorites is Nietzsche, I think he’s great, existentially, it really helps me to read him. One of the things Nietzsche says, and maybe it’s true in terms of conflict is, “when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you”. If we don’t realize that any conflict that’s outside is also inside, it’s going to be really difficult to resolve because people don’t feel responsible.
How can we make people more aware of conflict management styles. One model goes like this: on the vertical axis, we’ve got the importance of the relationship to you and on the horizontal axis is the importance of the result to you. The idea is that if you think the relationship and the result is really important, you’ll probably move into collaboration for resolution.
Talking about climate change is really interesting, because for people, the results are existentially really important, but people don’t feel it every day. So this maximization of importance of results is something we have to get across to people. The other thing that’s missing in this debate about climate change, is that people think they’re not dependent on each other, their interdependence. The felt importance of a relationship is lower than it actually is. However, when you have a really high score on the importance of relationship and the importance of the result, you go into a state where you go, “okay, we have to stay in dialogue, you have to give a little, I have to give a little, the stakes are high”. So that’s one, conflict management style.
If you think the relationship is not important at all, and the result is really important to you, you kind of see what we call charming manipulator conflict styles. These are people who are out for their own results, and don’t really care about the results of others. You will see them make alliances, but not relationships, so alliances to make sure they get their own results. Usually, when people enter a conflict, where they don’t rate the importance of the relationship, but they rate the importance of the result for themselves, then you see all forms of aggression and passive aggression that we talked about before. You can do that, the moment that you think that the result is more important than the relationship. Yesterday, I was listening to the news that Biden had stopped the pipeline from Canada to America. One of the commentaries was, “how could he do that? The friendship between Canada and America is so important”. The fact of the matter is that Biden has climate change very high on his agenda, so the result is more important to him than the relationship at the moment. The really tough thing to say is that we don’t have time in the turn around of climate change. We just don’t have time, the predictions are now speeding up within 20 years. It means that we have to put the result before the relationship. Is that aggression? In the end is taking care of the climate, not a form of taking care of the relationship as well? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. I certainly am.
So, if you think the relationship is much more important than the result, what you see people do is accommodation or submission. People adapt to whatever the other person wants. I used to work for a helpline for women when I was a student of psychology. Under threat of violence a lot of women accomodated even on that helpline. I thought it’s interesting because they think that the relationship is more important than the result. How can I deal with that? How can I help them understand that their relationship with themselves is just as important as whatever relationship they think they have with the other person? Anyway, accommodation is good if you think the threat is higher than the results you might get by resisting or negotiating. I understand it as a short term strategy. As a long term strategy for conflict management it’s not very good, because it means you stop telling the other person what you need and what you want. You also stop the other person from realizing that they’re actually dependent on you as well.
The other extreme is you don’t think the relationship is important even though the result is important. In that case, you can just walk away, the problem might still be important, but at that moment, the relationship is not important. Sometimes I come into teams where they have an enormous list of priorities, and the managers are going, “oh, we never finish our list of priorities”. The reason is because nobody checks if these priorities are actually important for these people? One thing really to check if you see that there are avoidance strategies, is, is this goal important for these people? And is the result important for these people? If it’s not, forget it, you will never get your priorities met. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll probably compromise and that might be good. Again, for a while, if the other person does compromise as well, the problem is, if you’re the only one to compromise, and the other person doesn’t, it quickly escalates to aggression. You have to be a bit careful with that.
So in summary, there are five conflict management styles, and we can rate them along the lines of importance of relationship or importance of results. The question to you is, the next time you fight or have conflict, do you have different goals but are you still dependent. Think about how important this relationship is to you. How important is the result to you? And try to choose a conflict management style consciously. If it’s that the relationship is that important and the result is that important – go for the collaboration, stay in dialogue, find the third solution that respects your relationship and the result. If for you the relationship isn’t important and the result isn’t important – just walk away. Don’t sweat the small stuff, in this case? I leave you with those questions.