[Strategy] Managing the Conflict You’re In

There are ways of managing conflict that involve using the weight of the other party’s assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue in order to create different conflict outcomes.

There are three things to understand in considering how to use the “throw” weight of another party in conflict:

Which quadrant are you in, and which quadrant are they in? Parties in opposite quadrants (i.e. accommodator/controller or collaborator/avoider) rarely interact productively in conflict scenarios, particularly when stress levels are high, mistrust is rampant and miscommunication is the coin of the realm. Knowing your own preferred conflict management style is critical to understanding what kind of assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue from past conflicts you are going to have to manage in yourself before beginning to manage the other party’s.Managing the Conflict Youre In

What is in their quadrant? Accommodators think of managing conflict as a process where being unassertive and cooperative is the way to manage others, and themselves. Competitors think of managing conflict through behaviors that tend to be viewed by others as assertive, but not cooperative.

A person who chooses competition is always going to be frustrated with an accommodator and eventually, a party who baseline is accommodation will either get stressed in the conflict because of do too much of the emotional work; or, they might decide to stop engaging in pointless self-sacrifice.

Avoiders (and many parties in conflicts in business and in life self-identify their behaviors as conflict avoiding) manage the process by being both unassertive and uncooperative with others. In the opposite quadrant are conflict collaborators, who view the process of conflict as one that increases the pie of value and options. Opposite from avoiders, collaborators are both assertive and cooperative.

A party that has collaboration as their baseline is going to be constantly frustrated by the lack of cooperation between themselves and a conflict avoider. And the avoider is going to go out of their way to avoid collaborating—or engaging with any of the other conflict management styles, until there arises an opportunity to work the conflict in their favor.

Then there are the “ditches,” areas between the conflict management baseline styles where interesting things happen. This is where the jiu-jitsu begins in earnest, because these are the spaces where parties can recognize elements of other behavioral styles and use these elements strategically.

This use will be to either maintain the status quo (the ditch between an accommodator and a collaborator or between an avoider and a competitor) or to challenge the way that the conflict process is happening (the ditch between the accommodator and the avoider or the ditch between the collaborator and the competitor) and try another way.

How deep into compromising do you want to go? For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by competition, compromise will feel like defeat. For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by avoiding, compromise will be scary and tempting. For a party with a baseline style defined by accommodation, compromise will seem like gaining the Holy Grail, but at the expense of losing something else. For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by collaborating, compromise will also seem like gaining the Holy Grail, and not losing anything at all in the process.

Going deep into compromise is a strategy, not a tactic. And preparing the parties to “go deep” into an area they don’t understand (and view through their differing frames and lenses in differing ways) is a risky strategy at best. But getting them to cross the ditch toward each other—a ditch filled with assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue from past attempts and failures to cross the ditch—is the second hardest work of managing conflict.

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