Conflict Resolution Styles for Interpersonal Conflict

Successfully resolving conflict means reaching durable solutions which both parties agree to accept and adhere to. The way you go about doing that will depend on the type of conflict and the unique circumstances that pertain to it. S

Conflict Resolution Styles

It is important to consider your style when thinking about the outcome you want.

According to M. Afzalur Rahim,[1] there are five distinct styles:

  1. Compromising – both parties make concessions to reach a consensus;
  2. Avoiding– the intentional act of ignoring a conflict;
  3. Dominating – over-powering the other side with your decision-making or position;
  4. Obliging – accommodating the needs and interests of the other parties; and
  5. Integrating – finding a creative solution to the conflict which aims to satisfy the interests of both parties which is possible because both see the conflict as a mutual problem which needs to be resolved collaboratively.

When are they appropriate?

Compromising Avoiding Dominating Obliging Integrating
Parties are equally powerful The conflict has been highly emotive and you both need to cool off. Issue is not complex or important The relationship is important to you The parties have time to discuss
The parties’ goals are totally unlinked The outcome is not important to you It’s about asserting leadership over subordinates lacking authority or expertise Your position is weak The matter is complex
The parties are at a stalemate Confrontation could only make things worse Conceding to the other party may be expensive for you The issue is not important to you Both parties trust each other and can collaborate
None of the other styles are appropriate and a temporary solution is needed to move on. The other side’s position is so weak, engaging in any way will simply waste resources A speedy decision is necessary, possibly to avoid further conflict. Conceding now could lead to a better position in the future i.e. “choose your battles” Both parties wish to exploit an interest or resource and they must work together to achieve this.

When are they Inappropriate ?

Compromising Avoiding Dominating Obliging Integrating
The parties are not on an equal footing The outcome of the conflict and its subject is important to you Issue is complex The subject of the conflict is not important to you The conflict is not very complex
The conflict is complex You are the key decision maker Both parties are equally powerful Your position is strong Time is of the essence
Both parties need to problem solve A decision is required Subordinates are competent and their relationship with you is important The other party has a weak position or has acted in an untrustworthy manner The outcome matters to several stakeholders
  You need to act quickly There is no reason to rush   Future relationship is not relevant i.e. it’s about one transaction

Each conflict is unique. There is no one way of resolving it and you may even need to combine approaches as the conflict develops. Careful consideration of the factors above will help you to understand what the best approach is.

This is where your emotions may sabotage you! It’s easy to take a default approach to any conflict. Some may use aggression when feeling angry, others may avoid any kind of confrontation, no matter how important it is to them. That’s when conflict resolution becomes dysfunctional.

Be honest with yourself and understand your default approach to conflict. Once you become aware of it, you can start to become more flexible and courageous in resolving conflict constructively.

[1] M. Afzalur Rahim, Managing Conflict in Organizations (4th edn., 2011, Routledge)


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