Managing Conflict: What’s Your Style?

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By Scott J. Allen

Anyone in management knows that difficult conversations are a major part of the game. For a new manager (and even seasoned ones) these conversations can be difficult to navigate and, in our experience, people work more from their “default” style than an intentional approach, depending on the context. For instance, a manager who tends to avoid conflict, as a default, will likely bring this to the workplace as well. Of course, in some instances avoiding conflict may be appropriate, but in others not. In all likelihood, you have worked for someone with this default approach and, as a result, problems festered and the culture suffered.

In all reality, there are five simple approaches to conflict that include competing/forcing, accommodating, collaborating, avoiding, and compromising.* It is important to underscore, once again, that each of these styles has a time and a place. In addition, each one of us likely has one or two that we “go to” on a consistent basis. Likewise, there are others that you are less versed in. For instance, avoiding conflict may be difficult for an individual conditioned to always use a more combative style. The five styles are:

  • Competing/Forcing—When an individual employs a competing/forcing style, his primary objective is to get his way—oftentimes, regardless of what others think. Of course this can cause hard feelings or make others feel “walked upon,” but at times this is a necessary approach to be heard, as when others are taking advantage, when others are in danger, or when immediate compliance is required.
  • Accommodating—Individuals who employ an accommodating style want to please people and spend a lot of energy meeting the needs of others—often in an attempt to maintain a sense of harmony. The downside of this style is that the accommodator can get walked on by others.
  • Collaborating—Often called the “win-win,” this approach to conflict creates space for mutual dialogue. By doing so, parties examine how the needs of each can be met. The great benefit of this approach is that mutual needs are met and this approach identifies new options not previously considered.
  • Avoiding—Managers who avoid conflict do not confront the necessary interpersonal challenges that exist in an organization. Ultimately, this approach allows problems to persist.
  • Compromising—The objective of this approach is to make a quick decision. However, a challenge may be that each party must “give up” something, and in the end, no one is happy. Likewise, in an effort to make a quick decision, the solution may not always be the best long-term approach.

We imagine that each of these is simple enough to understand. However, mastery of each style is incredibly challenging. In real time, people often revert to their defaults versus intentionally choosing an approach that may be the best fit for the situation. What is your default? How does that help and hinder you as a leader? How does it stall progress for your team?

© 2011 Scott J. Allen and Mitchell Kusy. All rights reserved. Adapted with permission of the publisher from The Little Book of Leadership Development: 50 Ways to Bring Out the Leader in Every Employee (AMACOM).

* D.A. Whetten and K.S. Cameron, Developing Management Skills (8th edition) (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010).

About the Author(s)

Scott J. Allen, PhD., is assistant professor of management at John Carroll University and coauthor of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership. Mitchell Kusy, PhD., teaches in the doctoral program in Leadership & Change at Antioch University. He is the coauthor of Toxic Workplace!, Breaking the Code of Silence, Manager’s Desktop Consultant, and Fast Forward Leadership. Allen and Kusy are coauthors of The Little Book of Leadership Development: 50 Ways to Bring Out the Leader in Every Employee (AMACOM).