The "C Word" - Conflict
con·flict noun noun: conflict; plural noun: conflicts /ˈkänˌflikt/
a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one. "the eternal conflict between the sexes"
verb verb: conflict; 3rd person present: conflicts; past tense: conflicted; past participle: conflicted; gerund or present participle: conflicting /kənˈflikt,ˈkänˌflikt/
be incompatible or at variance; clash. "parents' and children's interests sometimes conflict"
Conflict is invariable in life. From the moment we're born into the world, we experience some form of conflict (I'm sure that while none of us remember, the conflict of the cold delivery room against our warm, little, fleshy newborn body was meaningful in that moment - otherwise, why would we cry?!) Conflict displays itself in different ways for different people because we're all Snowflakes.
That's right - I said it. You're a Snowflake.
But here's the thing, Snowflakes are special because they're all different; no two are the same - they come with different edges and ridges, different shapes and sizes. And together, they make some amazing, breathtaking things in the world! When you compare that to people and how we experience and work through conflict, it's not much different.
When you take into consideration our upbringing and resiliency factors, you'll start to see the blueprint of how someone manages conflict. If you come from a well-rounded family that allows, encourages and manages conflict well, you're likely going to be great at working your way through it and problem solving - likely to a win/win between you and the other party you're experiencing conflict with. However, if you have a different approach, such as command and control, it may feel like you handle conflict well, but the reality is that people are probably scared to walk toward the roar with you because of your personality type. To help us manage conflict, not unlike other leadership behaviours, we adapt to a style. This is based on several factors, but predominantly on our upbringing and conflict history/memory. There are a few different types of conflict - healthy and damaging.
Healthy conflict presents as people sharing ideas and creating creative tension to drive change or adapt a way of thinking. It can include things like speaking the "unspeakable" to bring workplace issues to light or create a better working environment. Healthy conflict is communicated with a sense of purpose and passion, but never with disrespect or lack of positive intent. Healthy conflict happens in good faith.
Damaging conflict is far less productive and includes things like Third Party Checking, personal attacks, gaslighting, isolation tactics and name-calling. It facilitates rumours, introduces risk and eliminates a culture of mutual respect. It can be horrifically damaging for your organization and for the mental health of your team.
We've all experienced both types of conflict in our lives, and if given the choice, I'm sure would each choose healthy and productive conflict over any type of damaging conflict. Now, when we consider the above-noted, we predominately fall into one of the following styles of how we manage conflict:
The Competitor/Controller (aka: The Forcer): Often assertive and uncooperative, this style may tend to pursue their interests before others. When this is the dominant style, these folks can be power-oriented and will generally try to use whatever authority is available to win their personal position. They'll lean into their ability to argue, outrank or sometimes their economic advantage. When leveraged outside of the norm, sometimes, "competing" may also mean “standing up for your rights” or defending a position that you think is correct/right and ethical, so don't see this as a "bad" style!
The Accommodator: This style is generally unassertive and cooperative – usually the opposite of Competing/Controlling. When accommodating, an individual tends to neglect their own position or concerns to satisfy that of others (thus creating self-sacrifice). Accommodating may take the form of generosity or charity, obedience (even when they don’t want to) or yielding to another person’s point of view. (This was me in the infancy of my career... Not gonna lie.)
The Avoider: This style is generally unassertive and sometimes uncooperative. When avoiding, an individual does not immediately pursue their concerns, or those of others. Conflict often makes this person incredibly uncomfortable, so they don't acknowledge that conflict exists. Avoiding may take the form of diplomatically sidestepping/postponing an issue or simply withdrawing from situations that seem threatening or grossly uncomfortable. This can show up like procrastination, when really it's conflict avoidance. There *is* a time and place to embrace this style.
The Collaborator: Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative, the opposite of Avoiding. This style attempts to work with other people to find solutions that satisfy the concerns by digging into issues to identify underlying concerns, attempting to find alternatives that meet everyone’s needs. Collaborating might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights in an attempt to resolve issues to avoid competing or experiencing confrontation. Collaborators like creative solutions to solve interpersonal problems. Many people are Collaborators.
The Compromiser: The Compromiser is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. This style is always seeking to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies everyone. The Conflict Math for this type of person is a bit more complex: compromising gives up more than competing, but less than accommodating. It addresses issues more directly than avoiding, but doesn’t explore it as in-depth as collaborating. Compromising might mean splitting the difference, exchanging concessions or seeking a quick middle-ground position. (This is where I currently find myself 80% of the time. Change Leaders are phenomenal in this space!)
To be clear ... People are not all or nothing - I read the list above and can think of circumstances and situations where I could/should be more of an Avoider, and I can identify situations where I am 100% a Competitor. Understanding conflict is all about knowing "which hill to die on" and how to show up to manage the conflict when it comes your way.
Helios has a range of assessments and workshops that could help you and your team reach your potential when it comes to the C-word. Conversations about conflict aren't always easy, but when you embrace conflict as the catalyst for change and growth as an individual, leader and organization, it can make it a lot less intimidating.
Do you know your conflict style? Want to know more or work with your team to uncover how you *really* manage conflict in your organization? Reach out, a call doesn't cost a thing!