In our last post, we examined our feelings about conflict and tried to wrap our heads around what the word means. Today, we’ll look at a few common ways people approach conflict situations.
A person approaching conflict from a non-assertive stance may be thinking, I’m not okay but the other person is. When it comes to decision making, this approach allows others to take the lead. Because this conflict style, practiced to the exclusion of other styles, can result in low levels of self-sufficiency, a person may end up running away or giving in when it comes to conflict. Others can respond by showing disrespect, guilt, frustration or anger. Decisions that flow out of this approach often lack clarity and buy-in.
Aggression as an approach to conflict proves the fact that opposite reactions are not necessarily any more correct. A person approaches conflict with an equally unproductive belief in place. I’m okay and you are not. This person will make decision for others. He or she can feel high or low in self-sufficiency. As we all know, the bully may feel quite small on the inside. In a conflict situation, this person will go on the attack. Others will naturally respond with hurt, humiliation, defensiveness and avoidance. The recipe for success in conflict resolution for the aggressive person is to get in the first punch. The best offence is a good defense.
No one gets double the bang for their buck by combining these two approaches. The belief here is – I’m okay but you are not but I will not let you know I think that. Oh, the tangled web – right? If a decision must be made, this person will choose for others but go out of his or her way to make sure it isn’t too obvious. Levels of self-sufficiency will generally look high but are, in fact, quite low. When conflict situations arise, this person will make use of all the tools required for a sneak attack – guilt, manipulation, coercion, lies and I’ll leave you to name a few more. We’ve all been on the receiving end of this type of conflict style. Others often respond with confusion, frustration and anger.
Let’s just sit on the fence through this approach. The core belief goes back-and-forth. I’m okay and you’re not. You’re okay and I’m not. In decision-making, this person might choose for others but doesn’t realize that he or she is choosing. Levels of self-sufficiency can be high or low. In a problem-solving situation, this person will be strategic and oblique. There are two types of responses that the indirect style engenders – unknowing compliance or out-right resistance. Success is measured by getting the unwitting support of others.
A person who approaches conflict with an assertive style, operates with the core belief that I’m okay and so are you. When it comes to decision-making, these people are quite capable of choosing for themselves and allowing others to do the same. He or she is not out to force anything on anyone. These people have a high level of self-sufficiency. In a problem-solving situation, an assertive person will seek a direct confrontation. Others often respond with mutual respect. Assertive people are looking for win-win outcomes wherever possible.
Which style is best?
At first glance, it would seem obvious that to adopt an assertive conflict-management style is the best way to go. But, like many situations in life, one size does not fit all. We need to choose the best response for a given conflict situation with a given person in a given setting. Everything about conflict comes in context.
Here are a few things to think about.
1. Relationship: in some cases people do have power over us (employee/employer) and in some cases we do have power over others (with a child). It is important to understand these dynamics.
2. The other person: We deal with different people in different ways. Think about parenting. Stepping back might work with one child but being assertive is the only way to go with another. Taking an indirect approach now and then might soothe troubled relationship waters. Maybe this is one of those rare occasions when aggression is required. Someone is in danger and there is not time to discuss niceties.
3. Your goals at this time, in this place, with this person: Will you harm the other person with direct and honest confrontation? Do you need to assert yourself at all? It is possible to let some things slide. Is the problem worth a confrontation at this time? Maybe going for direct confrontation, at this time, is only setting everyone up for failure.
What type of approach do you take to conflict situations? Get curious about your preferred ways of dealing with conflict. Can you describe ways when the assertive approach doesn’t fit?