Over the many years of its existence, the human race has developed five primary methods or protocols of dealing with whatever type of cultural, interpersonal, or intrapersonal conflict may occur.  Depending upon the issue, any one of those five can be the best match for the circumstances.

Unfortunately, each of us has a “preferred” method for dealing with conflict.  That method is largely influenced by learned or possibly inherited behavioral preferences related to cooperativeness (how much you want to satisfy someone’s concerns) and assertiveness (how much you want to satisfy your own concerns).  Remember, under any given set of circumstances, any one of these methods can be effective in maximizing agreement and minimizing conflict.  The five methods of choice include:

  1. Avoiding:  Low assertiveness, low cooperativeness;
  2. Accommodating:  Low assertiveness, high cooperativeness;
  3. Compromising:  Average in both assertiveness and  cooperativeness;
  4. Competing:  High assertiveness, low cooperativeness; and,
  5. Collaborating:  High assertiveness, high cooperativeness.

Here are some suggested tips on when to use each method.  You may disagree with these suggestions.  The question is, how effectively do you avert needless conflict over personal, business, and family resources?  If you find yourself constantly embroiled in controversy, you might want to begin rethinking your options.  Based on the work of Kenneth Thomas, here are some suggestions for appropriate use of each method:

Avoiding can be used for issues of trivial or passing importance; when others can resolve the conflict more effectively; when you have no chance of satisfying your concerns; and when the costs outweigh the benefits of an immediate decision.

Accommodating can be used when you find yourself on the wrong side of the issue; when the issue is more important to the other person than to you; to build deposits with another person; and when you need to let others experiment and learn from their own mistakes.

Compromising can be used when you are matched with an equally powerful opponent committed to mutually exclusive goals; when you need to reach at least a temporary settlement; when collaboration and competition fail to produce a moderately satisfying result.

Competing can be used when quick and decisive action is vital; when you know you are right on issues vital to company, family, or personal welfare; and when you are dealing with people who will take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.

Collaborating can be used when you want to achieve a “win-win” solution; when you want to gain commitment by using other insights to gain consensus; and when you want to work through hard feelings that interfere with an interpersonal relationship. 

In short, to maximize agreement you need to develop the flexibility to use all five of these tools.  The next time you get caught up in conflict, remember each of these tools.  Then make a choice that will build the relationship.

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