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types of conflict thesis

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Conflict-Management Styles: Pitfalls and Best Practices

Conflict-management styles can affect how disputes play out in organizations and beyond. research on conflict-management styles offers advice on managing such difficult situations..

By Katie Shonk — on October 25th, 2021 / Conflict Resolution

types of conflict thesis

People approach conflict differently, depending on their innate tendencies, their life experiences, and the demands of the moment. Negotiation and conflict-management research reveals how our differing conflict-management styles mesh with best practices in conflict resolution.

A Model of Conflict-Management Styles

In 1974, Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann introduced a questionnaire, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument , designed to measure people’s conflict styles. Based on people’s responses to pairs of statements, the instrument categorizes respondents into five different conflict styles:

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A collaborative negotiation style is usually the most effective style for managing conflict and fostering productive long-term relationships; however, different conflict-management styles can be effectively applied to different phases and types of conflict in management. Moreover, though we may have a predisposition toward a particular conflict style, we adopt different styles depending on the situation.

Competing is often useful when you’ve jointly created value through collaboration and now need to divide up resources. Accommodating may be the best immediate choice when your boss is unhappy about a project that went awry. Avoiding can be wise when someone seems volatile or when we don’t expect to deal with them again. And compromising can be a fine way of resolving a minor issue quickly.

Conflict-Management Styles : Lessons from Marriage Research

Can people with different conflict-management styles get along? In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail . . . and How You Can Make Yours Last (Simon & Schuster, 1995), psychologist John Gottman writes that healthy marriages tend to settle into three different styles of problem solving: validating (compromising often and working out problems to mutual satisfaction), conflict-avoidant (agreeing to disagree and rarely confronting differences directly), and volatile (frequently engaging in passionate disputes).

Perhaps surprisingly, Gottman’s research suggests that “all three styles are equally stable and bode equally well for the marriage’s future,” as he writes. Which style a couple leans toward isn’t important; what’s more important for lasting satisfaction is that both spouses adopt the same style.

Though Gottman’s research was conducted on married couples, the results suggest that disputants in the business world who have similar conflict-management styles may find they feel comfortable managing (or avoiding) conflict with each other.

When Conflict-Management Styles Are Complementary

By contrast, in the realm of negotiation, the results of a 2015 study published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research by Scott Wiltermuth, Larissa Z. Tiedens, and Margaret Neale found benefits when pairs of participants used one of two different negotiating styles.

They assigned study participants to engage in a negotiation simulation using either a dominant or submissive negotiating style. Those assigned to be dominant were told to express their preferences with confidence, use expansive body postures, and otherwise try to influence their counterpart. Those assigned to the submissive style were told to be cooperative, agreeable, and conflict avoidant.

Interestingly, pairs in which one party behaved dominantly and the other submissively achieved better results in the negotiation than pairs who were in the same condition (whether dominance, submission, or a control group). It seems the pairs of dominant/submissive negotiators benefited from their complementary communication style. A pattern in which one person stated her preferences directly and the other asked questions enabled the negotiators to claim the most value. By asking questions, the submissive negotiators assessed how to meet their own goals—and helped their dominant counterparts feel respected and competent in the process.

The research we’ve covered on negotiation and conflict-management styles suggests that opportunities to work through differences abound, regardless of our natural tendencies. Rather than spending a lot of time diagnosing each other’s conflict-management styles, strive for open collaboration that confronts difficult emotions and encourages joint problem solving.

Question: What lessons about conflict-management styles have you learned in your own negotiation and conflict-resolution efforts?

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types of conflict thesis


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