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Conflict Styles

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The idea of conflict will make some people shutter at the thought, while others smile and give you the inevitable comment "I love a great argument!" In our personal and work lives conflict is there and it is inevitable. Great ideas and some soured relations come out of conflict. With all this being said conflict is part of our lives. Whether we agree or disagree, it touches all of us. As with most people over the years, we have worked with people who were great at winning arguments.  It is always nice to know and be associated with them until the conflict is between you and one of them.

There are five styles of conflict. These five styles represent every way we handle those conflicts. The five styles are Competing; Compromising, Accommodating, Avoiding, and Problem Solving.  They can be distinguished along two dimensions: assertiveness, the degree to which the style attempts to satisfy the person's concerns with respect to the issues; and cooperativeness, the degree to which the style attempts to satisfy the other person's concerns.

When the term conflict comes up, people instantly think of situations they have had in their lives and winning or losing. People often associate this as the tactic in dealing with others through the conflict. We try to convince individuals we are right by showing them the light or battling the point.

I once worked with a gentleman that was the consummate professional. When he first started, I was amazed at his ability to handle the stressful situations in the world of restaurants. No matter how busy it was, he always seemed to smile. He was polite to employees and generally would do the right thing. On one slow afternoon we were standing in the kitchen of the restaurant. I noticed he was heating a container of soup incorrectly. It was not unsafe but outside the guidelines of the company we worked for. I approached him and began the conversation with "that is not the proper procedure." As we talked about the procedure I explained why it was not the accepted standard. He disagreed with what we discussed and cited his past experience. Before the conversation had ended we were debating technical spec's proper cool down temperate, the purpose of the NSF (National Safety Foundation) and everything in between. I knew the procedure he was using was incorrect, yet I conceded and walked away. For months after the incident I played the experience back in my mind looking for what might have been said to offend such an easy going individual and strain our relationship. Sometime later I discovered the different styles of conflict. In every conflict we choose a style. This does not mean you actively stop what you're doing and pick one, yet we all tend to move towards a style depending on the conflict. Three of the styles come to mind when I relive this experience.

With a better understanding of the styles I wondered how the outcome could have been different.  I determined that once I started talking to that employee, it put the conversation on edge. I put him on the defense and he felt he had a better way to do the job. Once it was determined I would not change the way this job was done, he took the conflict style of competing. As the name suggests it is about winning. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines compete as; to strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective: be in a constant state of rivalry. Someone who exhibits this behavior attempts to control the situation and deny other's control. As the conversation continued it was about winning and not necessarily about what was best or correct. When I would start to talk, he would overpower the conversation and tell me how I was incorrect. He continued to force his view and convince me I was wrong. Not about the procedure as much as doing it another way, his way. It became clear he would not back down even if our relationship was damaged. Below is a brief description of how we compete in a conflict.

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Craig Twombly
Priority Learning

Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.



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