5 Conflict Resolution Strategies for Healthy Relationships

Jul 10, 2021

Actor Stephen Moyer said, “Conflict is drama, and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are.” For this reason, it is vital to recognize and understand the different styles of conflict management and how to put those conflict resolution strategies into action. It can become the difference between being successful in life or staying in your current situation. 

When I became a CIO at Dell Technologies, I walked into the most political environment I had ever experienced in my career. We had at that time not only six Senior Vice Presidents competing with each other but also leaders in global segments competing for resources and conducting 14 acquisitions and shifting the company from a hardware orientation to software and services. 

“Conflict is not dangerous. The opposite is true. The lack of healthy conflict resolution can be dangerous,” John R. Miles

Each day was filled with intense pressure because all of these leaders were competing to be the top performer. It could make a difference to them making millions or losing their job. I watched some of these sessions turn into some of the most heated debates you have ever seen and escalated to ridiculous proportions and, as a result, extremely damaged and at times unrepairable relationships. 

Unfortunately, resolving conflict can be tricky. So, the critical question is, how do you prevent something like this from happening? 

I tackled this topic in a recent episode of the Passion Struck Podcast

Why Does Conflict Happen?

Conflict, similar to death and taxes, is an inevitable part of life! The reason? It is because no two individuals have precisely the exact needs and concerns. Ultimately conflict, specifically interpersonal conflict, is a fact of life, in all relationships and especially in work life. I’ve seen it emerge the most when people face heightened anxiety, for example, when you or your organization are going through a period of change or when everyone is under pressure because of a project, acquisition, or looming deadline.

However, conflict can also arise in relationships and situations outside work. But there is a significant difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict. 

Why do we need healthy conflict resolution?

Conflict is not dangerous. The opposite is true. The lack of healthy conflict resolution can be dangerous. Without conflict, we don’t have robust relationships, create a future vision, and don’t move the needle professionally or personally. But, the unhealthy conflict ends up eating away at trust and shared values. 

That is why the art of diplomacy is so crucial to bringing about healthy conflict resolution. Diplomacy is centered around negotiation by which people settle differences. Using diplomacy, we create an environment whereby compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding argument and dispute.

Being willing to respect the other person starts with honesty. It’s the act of engaging, leaning in, and showing them the dignity to work with them. It is respecting the other person enough to be present and work with them. It is diplomacy at its pinnacle. But you have to be willing, to be honest, you have to listen to the other person’s viewpoint, and you have to keep an open mind.

What are the five Thomas-Kilmann model conflict resolution strategies?

Interpersonal conflicts are not going away. I can promise you that. It often seems just when one conflict is over, another begins. That is why it is vital to understand how to utilize conflict resolution strategies to recognize and deploy the proper skill to engage in healthy and not unhealthy conflicts.

According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), used by human resource (HR) professionals worldwide, there are five effective strategies of conflict resolution —collaborating, competing, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising. Knowing when and how to use each approach can help control conflict and improve the working environment or interpersonal relationships.

Collaborating

Sometimes called a ‘win/win’ strategy, the collaborating strategy strives to ensure that both sides are satisfied. It is often described as the “Let’s find an agreeable solution for all of us.” When you use the collaborating strategy, you engage in open dialogue about all of the concerns and issues on the table. It also requires participants to explore alternate solutions and be willing to have an honest commitment from all parties.

This requires the parties to present their issues in a non-threatening way and think outside the box. The biggest downside with this strategy is that it is the hardest to do! That is because it requires close attention to the issues and people’s positions. But also the emotional state of the other side. 

Competing

This conflict resolution strategy is used when the concerns and the other party’s positions do not matter and are entirely ignored. It is often referred to as the “It’s not enough that I win – I am going to annihilate YOU strategy.” When you recognize this type of conflict resolution strategy is in play, you need to realize that for the other party, winning the conflict is the one and only outcome they are concerned about. And, the person who is using this strategy believes that any concession to the other side is seen as a sign of weakness. Using this strategy, the argument will be won by any means necessary: position, authority, mudslinging, lying, or anything needed to win.

That is because the person using it has absolutely zero concern about how the other side feels or the impact that the decision will have on them. There are many downsides to this strategy, the biggest being that it only works a few times (likely one) because it destroys the relationship with the other party or person. That is why it should only be used, such as competing with another company for a new client. 

Avoiding

The goal of the avoiding conflict style is to delay making a decision or going into conflict at whatever cost. It is often referred to as the “I’ll get to it tomorrow” or, as they like to say in Spain, “lo haré mañana.” When you use this conflict resolution strategy, neither your concerns nor the other party’s concerns need to be satisfied. There are many downsides to this strategy, and it can lead to very unhealthy conflict because you do not deal with any of the issues between the two parties. This often happens in interpersonal relationships where you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

That is why this strategy should only be used in circumstances when the concerns are of very low importance. If this strategy is deployed, it will be seen by the other party that you are delaying conflict either because making a decision will be minimal or you just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to confront the other person. 

Accommodating

The accommodating strategy is the exact opposite of the competing strategy. You can think of it as the “I’ll do whatever necessary” strategy. When you use this strategy, you are engaging in self-sacrifice, selflessness, and low assertiveness. You employ this when you are willing to give in on your issues or just about anything to preserve or maintain the relationship with the other party. It is certainly reasonable to use this strategy when the issue at hand is something of little importance to you or consequence in the bigger scheme of things.

Or, you are using a long-term diplomatic strategy, and you can give in on this issue for leverage on a more critical one. Think of this in terms of your relationship with a spouse or partner, and you are trying to pick the type of pizza to order. If you really don’t care, it’s ok to say, ‘Whatever pizza topping you want is ok with me.’ The biggest downfall of this strategy is overuse. So make sure you are mindful of that. 

Compromising

This strategy aims to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution. It usually is one that partially satisfies both parties while maintaining some assertiveness and cooperativeness. You can think of this in terms of “You win some, you lose some.” When you recognize another party is using this strategy, they are willing to trade some of their needs to win concessions from you in other areas.

This strategy is most effective when both sides of the conflict are equally dominant personalities and are willing to cooperate to preserve the relationship for the future. When using this conflict resolution strategy, the biggest downfall is that both sides may end up dissatisfied because they give away too much. So, be very careful in a compromise that you aren’t giving away something you can’t live without.

How to be comfortable with conflict resolution?

Conflict is inevitable and, when done well and healthily, it actually makes the team or relationship more robust. Not only does it help build trust, I believe it makes it even more vital.  

Because the conflict resolution strategies have an appropriate time and place for their use, it is highly recommended that you study and practice each one. Before entering into a conflict, it is always best to consider the appropriate conflict resolution strategy to employ – and don’t be afraid to change methods if it’s not working. And, remember these tips:

  • Separate the person from the issue at hand
  • Watching the person’s body language to gauge the emotional state
  • Asking open-ended questions instead of making statements
  • Listen before speaking
  • Differentiating concerns from positions
  • Developing options that provide mutual benefit to maintain the relationship.

The Passion Struck podcast is helping men and women unlock their true potential and become passion struck every day. Listen to the Passion Struck Podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts online. For more information, if you are in a toxic relationship, click here.

Make a choice, work hard, and step into your sharp edges.

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