Avoider, seeker, and an entire range in between. This is the spectrum of our conflict response styles. Often, we might find ourselves in disagreement with someone who has an opposing style. Are there then effective ways to meaningfully engage in a conflict? Absolutely. Let’s explore with a scenario:
You and a colleague are designing a presentation, and have different approaches to completion. She prefers planning the index cards, writing what she would speak, and seeks feedback. You like spontaneity and audience participation. With other work demands, you both haven’t been able to plan much. As the day arrives, some slides are fluid. Midway the presentation, an audience member asks a question, and your response eats into your colleague’s talking space. At the end, you appreciate your colleague’s efforts, and say “that could’ve gone better for sure.” She:
- Says it was a disaster, and asks “How could you spend so much time on that question?” She requests to not team up again.
- Shakes her head in agreement, and busies herself cleaning up. But you can feel her anger. She leaves quickly without making conversation.
- Receives your appreciation, and indicates that she would like to continue maintaining a healthy work relationship, though this collaboration did not go well. She then leaves.
- Asks more about your thoughts on the presentation, and shares that the rest of the team might be questioning her abilities right now.
Each of these responses is a variant of either avoiding, or seeking conflict, and may occur in combination as well. Though it helps to know someone’s conflict style in advance, it’s rarely possible for us to do so. How can we best understand and respond?
For conflict style 2 and 3: Your colleague is unhappy with the result of the presentation. Yet she avoids talking about the disconnect, and shies away from any conflict. There is lack of communication, which could possibly escalate the challenge. You could:
- Say directly, “I know neither of us likes conflict, but I’d love to not ignore the problem. What can we do about it?”
- Acknowledge the conflict and the reason for it, and then invite your colleague to express her opinions with honesty. The ask from you – be patient.
- Give her space for a day or so, and then drop a note saying that you would like to debrief the presentation.
For conflict style 1 and 4: Your colleague is more willing to address the conflict, and it might involve aggressive communication sometimes. But it leaves you with little room for negotiation. You could:
- Request for some time to gather your thoughts and calm down. Prepare for the conversation so that both of you have time to share feedback.
- Engage in the disagreement, but be aware of things getting heated. Be ready to ask for breaks or breaths, to keep things contained.
- Focus on being clear, direct, and assertive, but don’t disrespect her views.
The goal – to resolve the conflict, no matter what your style is. It is sometimes hard to stay focused and mindful during a heated argument, but that’s the first step towards resolution.