How Do You Handle Conflict? By Christina Stewart

In my 20’s I used to do one of two things: ignore it and tell myself it didn’t matter or steamroll right over the other person to get my way – there was no in-between.  In my 30’s as I came into myself I began to mellow. I had also landed in Human Resources as a career by then and was all about compromise and coming together.  Now that I’m in my 40’s I’m looking at conflict a little differently - I now see it as an opportunity.  A chance to see a different perspective and to learn something new.  It isn’t so black and white or cut and dry for me anymore.

There are five avenues that we can choose when it comes to conflict:

We can COMPETE or fight it out.  This is us being uncooperative and pursuing only our own concerns. This is what I call the Braveheart Model “I refuse to lose this battle!” If you use this then you manage the conflict in your work and life by persuading or controlling others.  This works in situations that are a matter of principles, values or ethics, when safety is at stake or in an emergency and it works in some business or sports contexts.

We can COMPROMISE which usually means finding some sort of quick solution just to put it to bed.  This is the “I guess so” model.  In these situations you aren’t fully ignoring the issue but you aren’t fully struggling with it either – it’s a half way version of working through conflict.  This model works when you need a fast, easy solution or when the issue isn’t really important, perhaps during minor disagreements.

We can AVOID or pretend it isn’t there. We might staying away from the other person, we might refusing to discuss the issue, we might make jokes or we may change the subject. This is the “Ostrich” model (head in the sand…) This model can be helpful when the emotional level is running high, when there is danger, when it’s not important, when you don’t think that you or the other person is capable of having a productive conversation or when it’s not your conflict.  But all too often we use avoiding when we want to be seen as nice, when we put the other’s needs ahead of our own or when we place the value on the relationship over our own selves.

We can ACCOMMODATE or give over to the other person. This is what I refer to as “You’re right, you’re right – yes, let’s do it your way even though that makes no sense to me and is actually much more work for me, so, just forget I said anything” model.  We will often find ourselves using this when we are looking for approval from the other person or when we are afraid the relationship may get damaged if we assert our needs.  By using this method too often and not addressing our own needs – resentment builds and the relationship is damaged. 

We can COLLABORATE which is still assertive but tries to dissect the issue and look at it from all party’s sides.  “How we can all solve this problem?” We use this model when both the relationship and the issues are important to us. Often, we think the biggest impediment to using this style is time. But it’s actually fear – fear of putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable.  Fear of even admitting that there is conflict. None of us use this as often as we should.

Right now, I want you to think about a conflict in your work or your life – ask yourself:

  • —  How’s it working for you? Are you getting your needs met most of the time?
  • —  What about the long term impact on your relationship? 
  • —  How do you think this person feels towards you after you have a disagreement or dispute?
  • —  How would you describe the level of trust that exists between you?

Now I want you to imagine what would happen if you went to that person, with an open mind and said with genuine warmth:

“How are we going to work together?”

Take the conflict in your life that is – the avoiding, the fear, the accommodating to others and flip the switch to a new bliss – take it to what could be and give collaboration a shot.