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Just as there are distinct personality types, people have distinctly different ways of dealing with conflict. As a leader and a co-worker, the more you understand about these approaches to conflict, the better prepared you will be to become a problem-solver within your organization. Observers have identified five ways people typically handle conflict.

  1. Winner takes all.
    This person sees every potential conflict as black and white. They are right, so anyone who disagrees is automatically wrong. Their goal is to convince the other person to see things the “right” way. Because they are adamant, they can sometimes resort to bullying, threats or intimidation, even physical violence. They may get angry, yell and use inappropriate language, or they may give the other person the “silent treatment.” They may pull rank to get their way, if they can.
  2. Sidestepping the issue.
    This person doesn’t insist on winning, they insist that nothing is wrong. They hope that, by avoiding confrontation, problems will simply resolve themselves. They would rather suffer an indignity or worse quietly, because they worry that engaging in overt conflict might damage their personal relationship with the other person. However, because issues are never addressed, they can sometimes fester.
  3. Capitulation.
    This person is the perfect foil for someone determined to win. They don’t sidestep conflict – they admit there is a problem – but they’re happy to give in to a stronger personality. They, too, are more concerned about maintaining personal relationships. Anything to get along.
  4. Compromise.
    Compromisers think of themselves as “realists.” They don’t feel the need to win, so they are willing to give something up as long as they get something in return. Compromise can be a good thing, as long as both parties feel their needs have been met to an acceptable level. If this doesn’t happen, however, a new conflict may arise when one or both parties feel they didn’t get their fair share. And sometimes a half-way resolution really isn’t the best solution.
  5. Problem-solving.
    Unlike simple compromise, this approach tried to create two “winners.” The problem-solver looks at wants and needs on both sides and tries to find a solution that keeps both parties’ honor and values intact. This type of give-and-take is also called the art of negotiation.

These approaches to conflict have their roots in real life. Many of us are taught that “winning is everything,” especially in sports and business. Sometimes the smartest response to a problem is, indeed, to ignore it. Or to let the other person have their way. If the problem isn’t significant, why make it out to be something more? You don’t necessarily have to defend your position (or even take one) on everything.

What’s the problem here?

No workplace is without disagreements, hurt feelings or more serious conflicts. All too often, these arise from misunderstandings due to poor communication or emotional responses to clashing personalities or actions. Clearly, then, conflict resolution can be improved significantly by working to improve both communication and problem-solving skills. The reward will be stronger personal relationships and collaboration, enhanced creativity and a happier workplace that encourages retention.

Unless you work for yourself, by yourself, your job involves teamwork. Or leading teams. You’ll be better at both if you sharpen your skills in identifying potential conflicts before they escalate and if you work to understand the five ways people deal with conflict.

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