People are often defined by how they approach conflict. Take a colleague at work who is terribly submissive and avoids confrontation. They are known as a ‘door mat’ and are treated as such by their colleagues and superiors. On the other hand, there are people who seem to seek out a fight. They raise their voice, provoke the people around them, and take any opportunity to prove they are ‘right’.
We all have our own approach to conflict. Whether you lean more towards being a submissive ‘turtle’ or an aggressive ‘shark’ depends on your disposition and how you grew up.
The fact is, the most healthy form of conflict style is somewhere in the middle. Someone who can enter conflict and seeks to find the best solution for themselves and the other person is an ideal model.
Below we have listed five different conflict styles. As you read through, identify which style you identify with. Perhaps it is facets of each, or maybe you align yourself strongly with one.
Compare this style with the ones following, and observe what areas you need to grow in. See how you can become more like the ‘Owl’ and what steps you can take to develop this approach.
Turtles withdraw into their shells to avoid conflict. They give up their personal goals and relationships. They stay away from the issues over which the conflict is taking place and from people with whom they are in conflict. Turtles believe it is hopeless to try and resolve conflicts. They feel helpless. They believe it is easier to withdraw (physically and psychologically) from conflict than to face it.
Sharks try to overpower opponents by forcing them to accept their solution to conflict. Their goals are highly important to them and the relationship is of minor importance. They seek to achieve their goals at all costs. They are not concerned with the needs of other people. They do not care if other people like or accept them. Sharks assume that conflicts are settled by one person winning and one person losing. They want to be the winner. Winning gives sharks a sense of pride and achievement. Losing gives them a sense of weakness, inadequacy and failure. They try to win by attacking, overpowering, overwhelming and intimidating other people.
The Teddy Bear
To teddy bears, the relationship is of great importance, while their own goals are of little importance. Teddy bears want to be accepted and liked by other people. They think that conflict should be avoided in favour of harmony and believe that conflicts cannot be discussed without damaging relationships. They are afraid that if the conflict continues, someone will get hurt, and that would ruin the relationship. They give up their goals to preserve the relationship. Teddy bears say, “I’ll give up my goals, and let you have what you want, in order for you to like me.” Teddy bears try to smooth over the conflict in fear of harming the relationship.
Foxes are moderately concerned about their own goals and about their relationship with other people. Foxes seek compromise. They give up part of their goals and persuade the other person in conflict to give up part of their goals. They seek a solution to conflicts where both sides gain something, the middle ground between two extreme positions. They are willing to sacrifice part of their goals and relationships in order to find agreement for the common good.
Owls highly value their own goals and relationships. They view conflicts as problems to be solved and seek a solution that achieves both their own goals and the goals of the other person in conflict. Owls see conflict as improving relationships by reducing tension between two people. They try to begin a discussion that defines the conflict as a problem to be solved. By seeking solutions that satisfies both themselves and the other person, owls maintain the relationship. Owls are not satisfied until a solution is found that achieves their own goals and the other person’s goals. They are not satisfied until the tension and negative feelings have been fully resolved.
Do you struggle with conflict? Would you like to discuss how to maintain healthy relationships with the people around you? Here’s what you need to do: contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.
* The contents of this blog are taken from ‘You and Your Skills: Dealing with Conflict Handouts’.