We all have different ways of dealing with conflict. Some of us like to attack it head on (possibly even enjoying it a little). Some of us do whatever it takes to keep the offending party happy, possibly even giving into the myth that ignoring problems is good and noble. Some of us just run away. When the going gets tough, these folks get going… in the opposite direction. And then, there are some of us who choose to work together to find a happy solution for all.
Deborah Smith Pegues dedicates a chapter in her book, Confronting Without Offending, to each of these conflict management styles and gives Scriptural examples for each. Even though it seems like the Collaborator approach is the only good approach (it is, by far, the best and the one which should be most-implemented), each approach can be useful in certain situations.
Conflict Management Styles
Dictator: “Do it my way.”
I call this the “Eric approach.” ~smile~ He is a leader. It is who he is through and through. He does not have to stop and think, “Should I take the lead on this?” He often simply takes the lead unless someone else is officially in authority above him in the environment. If I did not speak up more (which is more natural for me), he would happily gallop along assuming I will follow his lead. In confrontations, he would show his logical point, be happy that I saw it his way, and move on with life…. If life were only so simple. ~smile~
The negative side of dictators is that they may be tempted to yell or demand to get their way. How many of you have had a Dictator boss? Such methods may inspire fear in others, but not respect and genuine affection. Dictators can push others away if they are not careful and the Accommodators and Abdicators (discussed below) may shy away from them completely, terrified of ever getting on their bad side. If one person’s yelling and the other is bowing or hiding, no real communication will be accomplished. Relationships cannot survive without genuine communication.
On the other hand, there are times when a Dictator style is the best approach. Deborah says, “When the law is at stake, when you know for sure that you are right, when a decision must be made and you’re the only one who can make it, or when tough love must be practiced for the good of all – then dictate!” Sometimes, we simply have to take charge and get it done!
Accommodator: “Have it your way.“
I call this the “Heather approach.” ~smile~ At least, it was the old-Heather’s approach. If I make people happy, or always appear cordial, I won’t need to confront. The problem that arose for me with this approach is that instead of learning to effectively communicate, I learned to bottle up anger and let it fester. It did not take too long for me to explode all over my unsuspecting friend or family member. Just letting the world walk all over you is no way to live. You will be mad at yourself and mad at the world.
Deborah calls the mindset of an Accommodator “codependency at its worst.” She goes on to say, “The Accommodator wants to maintain the relationship at any cost, even at the cost of her own beliefs, values, peace of mind, personal time, or resources.” People do not respect someone who displays no backbone.
On the other hand, there is a time and a place to use the Accommodator style. Sometimes you decide after prayer and reflection that you prefer keeping the relationship as it stands rather than risking the loss of a relationship (e.g., you both do not see eye-to-eye on child-rearing philosophies, but determine that it is better to keep the relationship than to alienate your friend from your life, etc.)
Also, when you have confronted a situation and the person is determined not to change, all you can say at that point is, “Have it your way.” Sometimes only God can get through to a person. Then, there are the times when it is best to let life teach the person a lesson (e.g., If I continue to use my friends, they will walk away from me completely. etc.).
Abdicator: “I’ll run away.”
I call this the “Ramsey approach.” ~smile~ (Note: Ramsey is our lovable, female, golden retriever – I’m not talking about Dave Ramsey… though, I imagine he’s more like the Dictator type above like my husband ~smile~). If there is conflict in the air, she will run to the refuge of her crate. “My master caught me digging in the trash again and he is coming to confront me. I will run, hide, and cower until he is happy again!”
This approach is ideal for canines, but it does not work well long-term for humans. Even though there are times when it is better to walk away from situations, it is not a healthy default conflict management style. If we get in a pattern of running from our problems, we may find relief for a while, but it will come at the cost of functional relationships. It is not comfortable to confront (especially if you are not practiced at it), but the alternative is worse… much worse.
Abdicating is a good approach only when it is for a short season. Have you ever been blind-sided by difficult situations? Accused of cheating for no apparent reason? Yelled at by a friend who misunderstood some rogue gossip? Believing a neighbor has been stealing your newspaper? In cases where you are not sure what to do, taking a step back to ponder and pray is not a bad idea as long as it is not a cleaver way to wiggle out of a confrontation.
Collaborator: “Let’s find a way.”
I call this the “mature approach” and I wish it was my first instinct! Hopefully, someday it will be. ~smile~ Deborah says, “One who collaborates when dealing with conflicts does so by cooperating, joining forces, uniting, pulling together, participating, and co-laboring.” This person looks for the win-win. How can we both be happy? How can we tackle this issue to where we can find a compromise and all feel heard?
Here are a few concepts to consider when attempting the collaborator’s approach.
- Who can change the situation? Don’t waste time complaining to people who cannot effect change (otherwise known as gossip). Figure out who needs to be addressed and plan an effective way to approach him or her (or them).
- What do you want? Before trying to make a change, be sure you know exactly what you want. Maybe you don’t like some policies at your job, but do you know how you would like those policies changed? Do not ask for change until you know what changes you desire.
- Do not be dissuaded by “the way it has always been.” Just because everyone else is afraid to request a meeting with the boss does not mean you have to follow suit. Just because no one else has ever received a raise does not mean you should not request one.
- Timing is important. When your co-worker comes stomping into work soaking wet with a scowl on her face it is probably not the best time to address a problem. Wait until she is in a good and rational state of mind before proceeding.
- Seek a positive outcome for everyone. We will not always get what we want in life. Even royalty endures disappointments. To effectively resolve conflicts, a Collaborator looks for solutions that suit everyone. Though no one will get everything they want, he or she will try to get everyone to have something they want… a compromise that satisfies everyone (all the mature parties, anyway).
Now that I am aware of the different styles of conflict management, I can strive to improve my confrontation skills. I have come to grips with the truth about myself (I tend to accommodate and abdicate), so I can take steps to become a more effective collaborator. Thank you, Deborah, for writing a clear, concise, easily understood confrontation handbook for the layman!
What is your conflict management style? How has it worked for you in the past?