All people hold strongly held beliefs and opinions that they feel are valid. If this claim is accurate then conflict is inevitable because you will have at least some differing beliefs and opinions with people you interact with. In addition conflict often escalates when we try to substantiate our position using any justification; albeit faith, intuition or the latest scientific research.
You may argue that in an ideal world we should be able to gain agreement with anyone based on the strength and validity of the evidence we present to support our claim. Or we should at least be able to disagree with another without being labeled disagreeable – but we do not live in an ideal world, we live in this world. In this world we invariably end up in conflict and therefore it’s preferable to have a range of options for conflict. These options give us the confidence to manage conflict. Note, that whilst I am addressing conflict with others it’s important to acknowledge that the internal conflict we have with ourselves is also a major issue that will challenge our confidence and consequently our Mental Toughness.
When you are confident it is a lot easier to choose between balancing the assertiveness you need to express your expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings and the cooperation you need to be considerate of others’ expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings. The skills-set for managing conflict is based on appropriately and situationally using the conflict options of avoiding, competing, accommodating, compromising and collaborating.
Avoiding – I lose, you lose
When we use avoiding as a conflict management option it usually means we are both low on assertiveness and low on cooperation. In an extreme avoiding situation we do not assert our expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings freely nor do we cooperate with the expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings of the other. Thus we avoid conflict. This is essentially an ‘I lose and you lose situation’.
In most instances when we are avoiding conflict the problem does not go away it simply lingers or grows. However, I feel, there are times when avoiding conflict is a good strategic decision and is not simply a decision based on low assertiveness or low cooperation. In these instance avoiding, deflecting or even postponing conflict are appropriate options, especially when engagement will lead to heightened tensions that will create even bigger conflict. The avoiding option includes conflict with people who you don’t like or who don’t like you. You can tell that I don’t feel you have to go about resolving all your conflicts! But, if you have many of these or if you are habitually avoiding conflict you will ultimately be the biggest loser. Therefore, you should critically reflect on what has created this situation and in all likelihood man up.
Competing – I win, you lose
When we use competing as a conflict option it usually means we are high on assertiveness and low on cooperation. We express our expectations, perspective, needs or feelings but are not considerate to hearing others’ expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings. In this instance we may have placed the other in a position where there is no safe emotional space for them to move towards where they can retain their self-esteem and composure. Thus we are competing. This is essentially an ‘I win and you lose situation’.
In many instances when we are competing the conflict escalates as it is usually interpreted by others as an enforcing and uncaring approach. Clearly this mode of conflict management is appropriate when trying to get ahead of competitors or in a situation where agreed strategies, values, policies or instructions must be followed. However, the competing option should be used selectively and carefully when dealing with your stakeholder community and suppliers. For that matter even when dealing with your opposition! When you prevail over others and they feel you have been uncaring or unfair the conflict may seem to have been resolved because you “won”, but it is more likely to have submerged and will in all likelihood re-emerge later in a different form where those who feel you have been inconsiderate will in all likelihood exact revenge.
Accommodating – I lose, you win
When we use accommodating, it usually means we are low on assertiveness and high on cooperation. In this instance we don’t readily express our expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings but we are considerate to others’ expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings. It means there is only a limited space where we can move towards and consequently there is some loss to us. Thus we accommodate. This is essentially an ‘I lose and you win situation’. You can see that in many instances this is the mirror image of the competing option except that you are the loser.
In most circumstances when we accommodate the conflict escalates as we invariably feel that we are losing out. Clearly this mode of conflict management is appropriate when dealing with someone who needs to be affirmed or encouraged. However, when others consistently prevail over you, you develop a loss of self-esteem and self-worth. The likelihood is that you will accumulate feelings of resentment and will at some point express disproportionate, displaced, outrage over other issues as a result of previous accommodation.
Compromising – I win a bit and lose a bit, you win a bit and lose a bit
When we use the compromising conflict option, it usually means we are expressing medium assertiveness and medium cooperation. We communicate our expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings and we are considerate to others’ expectations, perspective, needs or feelings but we reach for a solution where both sides give a bit to find common ground. Thus we compromise. This is essentially an ‘I win a little and I lose a little; you win a little and you lose a little situation’. In most instances when we compromise the conflict is contained or arbitrated but you will invariably experience a loss in potential.
Collaborating – I win, you win
When we are collaborating we are expressing high assertiveness and high cooperation. We freely communicate our expectations; perspectives, needs or feelings and we are considerate to others’ expectations, perspectives, needs or feelings. It is similar to compromise but there is no suggestion of any losses to either party. In this instance we are enabling self and others through identifying safe spaces for all to move towards. This gives both parties the opportunity to review positions or be transcendent of previously held positions and through doing this identify another position that is seen as a valued added place for all parties. Thus, we search for a solution where both sides are completely satisfied. This is an ‘I win and you win situation’. In most instances the solution is not obvious and is contained in a new discovery and requires thinking beyond the current or past issues. When we collaborate the conflict is resolved. Collaboration with stakeholders is the most prized conflict solution in a Mental Toughness context.
Use confidence to help manage conflict. Have you developed a range of options to manage conflict and can you apply them situationally instead of reflexively?
Dr Steve Harris – Mind Doctor