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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 5

Conflict Management Styles

It has long been recognized that different individuals deal with conflict in different ways. When conflict arises and tension builds, some people give in immediately while others assert their position evermore forcefully. It helps to be aware of your own behavior in conflict situations so that extreme or unhelpful tendencies can be tempered. Below is a description of conflict management styles, based on the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument.

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  • Competing: The Competing style describes someone who forces their own point without much consideration of the views of others. When tension escalates, the person pushes harder and harder. This is an assertive, but uncooperative style. Conflicts are viewed as 'win or lose' situations. With the Competing style, the goal is winning.
  • Accomodating: At the other end of the spectrum is the Accommodating style. The Accommodating person also sees conflict as a 'win or lose' situation, but instead of intending to win, this person is resigned to losing. He or she will give in easily, just to end the conflict. This type of person is very yielding and quick to make concessions. The style is described as non-assertive, but cooperative.
  • Avoiding: The Avoiding style is described as both non-assertive and uncooperative. Such a person is uncomfortable with conflict and inclined to avoid it. The Avoiding type of person tends to sweep conflict 'under the rug' and pretend that it does not exist.
  • Compromising: This style is characterized by a preference for bargaining. A person who uses this style prefers to meet the other party halfway. He or she is willing to give a little and expects others to do so also. This style is described as 'intermediate' in terms of both level of cooperation and degree of assertiveness.
  • Collaborating: As you may have guessed, the Collaborating style is both highly cooperative and highly assertive. People who use this style look for 'win-win' solutions to conflicts. Creative problem solving is valued. Equal participation is the norm. The goal is to resolve the conflict together, so that all parties are satisfied.

Conflict Types and Conflict Styles

Research is beginning to examine how different types of conflict can be most effectively managed. On the surface, it may be tempting to conclude that the Collaborative style should be used in all situations. But this does not always appear to be the case.

Studies have shown that when dealing with task-related or cognitive conflicts, collaboration is in fact, the ideal strategy. Collaboration facilitates communication by encouraging the expression of different philosophies and viewpoints. It generates creative solutions to problems and results in more effective decision- making (Amason, et. al., 1995).

Unlike task conflicts, relationship or affective conflicts involve deep-seeded personal differences. Such conflicts are usually not work-related, but they creep into work situations nonetheless. They tend to decrease team cohesiveness and erode trust. When relationship conflicts involve fundamental personal values, it is often best to simply 'agree to disagree.' Extensive discussion is not likely to change the situation. But isn't 'agreeing to disagree' a form of avoidance? In a way, it is. But in this context, avoidance involves putting personal differences aside so that more relevant work-related issues can be addressed.


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