The workplace would be quite dull, if all of us had the same personalities. But, thankfully we don’t! Specific aspects of our personality differences show up most when we are in conflict or disagreement with someone. Mostly because each one of us responds to conflict in a different way. However, we can largely categorize our conflict styles into two – avoiding it or seeking it.

Conflict avoiders. They shy away from disagreements, emphasizing on harmony and pleasantness. Their focus is to maintain positive relationships and they will often try to pacify people. Avoiders don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or disrupt team dynamics. Like turtles, they retreat into their shell, and:

  • Tend to bottle up feelings, which may erupt later.
  • Choose to ignore the conflict, and change the topic.
  • Play the role of the ‘good cop’ consistently.
  • Agree to other people’s views with ease.
  • Put other people’s needs ahead of their own.

If you are a conflict avoider, and need to step into a disagreement, ask yourself ‘what is my goal here?’ or ‘what specifically do I want to achieve in the relationship?’ This will help you focus and not shy away.

Conflict seekers. They seem comfortable engaging in disagreements, and are focused on being direct and honest. Sometimes, seekers lose their patience when others aren’t being equally direct, and don’t mind ruffling feathers. They:

  • Are rarely afraid to say what’s on their mind.
  • Prefer debating about the topic, and can turn it into a competition.
  • Sometimes feel disrespected when opinions go against them.
  • Make quick decisions, and this can help when time is short.
  • Are unafraid of entering situations that some people would shy away from.

If you are a conflict seeker, to have a healthy argument, ask yourself ‘what is an alternative explanation for the situation, apart from what I already know?’ This will help better understand the other person’s stance.

What makes us embody these styles? Our past experiences with conflict, how we’ve seen our parents manage it, our cultural/ religious experiences and conditioning, the organizational context, and even gender norms. Though each one of us has a default approach, we rarely avoid or seek out conflict all the time. Our response is most likely based on factors like whom we are in conflict with, the larger context/ reason, plus a sum total of our present life experience. For example, we may actively seek conflict with our partners, and avoid it completely with our managers!

These two types seem like two ends of the spectrum, right? And we might think one style is better than the other. But that is not necessarily true. Both have their merits and demerits. If you’re keen on knowing more about how to collaborate across these two conflict styles, stay tuned for our next post.

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