The five conflict personality styles – which one are you?

What is the first word or emotion that comes to mind when you hear the word “conflict”? This is a question I have been asking in the conflict navigation and difficult conversations workshops I have been leading for three decades. You have probably already guessed the most frequent responses to this question:

  • Stress
  • Fight
  • Frustration
  • Worry
  • Avoid at all costs
  • Hope it goes away
  • “Where’s the exit?!”
  • Anxious
  • “Not again!”

Given a few more minutes I know we would come up with a much longer list. The important element to note here is that most of these first reactions/thoughts/emotions to the word conflict are negative, and rooted in fear & disempowerment.

How we think about conflict shapes how we show up in it. If we tell ourselves, “this is going to be stressful, or this is going to be a tough conversation”, that’s exactly how we’ll approach the dialogue.

The first step is changing your mindset about conflict so we can deal with it differently.  Here are a few examples:

Instead of…..Replace with…..
This is going to suckThis is an opportunity for us both to clear the air and come up with a resolution together.
They always interrupt. I never get to share my perspective.We both have something important to say. We can agree in advance to let each other finish our thoughts before jumping in.
I am so nervous! I wish this would just go away.I have some solid communication skills that I can use to help me get through this conversation with more ease and comfort.
I am tired of fighting with this person.This conversation can help us both understand one another’s’ perspective and how to find a solution together
Remember… It’s just a conversation.

Once you reframe your mindset (you’ll likely catch yourself a lot!), you can then work on how you show up. Conflict is part of life and business, and happens frequently within teams. When team members understand the five different ways that people react and respond to conflict, the conversation and the resolution process is a smother one.

Knowing your typical or predominant response or rection to conflict is key. Over the 30 years I have been doing this work, and from when I was a mediator, I see there are five approaches we typically see in conflict. My work on this has been inspired by the work of Thomas Kilmann.

  • The Driver

The Driver Style is one that places high regard on resolution, often moving too fast to resolution and rushing past actually discussing the issue. Often this style needs to revisit the conversation because the focus was on simply resolving instead of understanding and the other person may have had minimal engagement in the building of solutions as this style pressed to have their own solution be the solution.

  • The Avoider

This style is uncomfortable with conflict, and deliberately ignores, avoids, or withdraws from a conflict rather than dealing with it. Often this style does not seem to care about their issue or the issues of others which can lead to relationship and trust problems. People who avoid the situation hope the conflict or problem will somehow go away or resolve itself without them having to engage in it. Sometimes this style relies on others to take the responsibility for the issue and the outcome.

  • The Consensus-Seeker

Think of the Consensus-Seeker as one that is collaborative, and where all parties work together on a mutually satisfactory resolution. They commit to the agreement/decision they made together and are willing to carry it out. There is commitment to uphold the agreement. In this style there is interest in understanding the issue, identifying underlying interests for each party, and finding that agreement that everyone can live with.

  • The Compromiser

The Compromiser style is where both sides make concessions, so each person is somewhat satisfied with the outcome but not entirely satisfied with it. In a compromise, each party gives up some of what they want in order to move forward. Compromise can work, however often when this style is used to either get out of the conflict quickly, or to get some agreement, the conflict often continues to pop up.  Digging a little deeper into the conversation can bring about a more collaborative outcome.

  • The Acclimator

The Acclimator style is where one person acclimates or is accommodating to the other party. We often hear people describe this style when they say “choose your battles”. This style can be very useful when you don’t have a strong attachment to a specific direction (e.g. you can live with both choices). If however you (or the other person) feels like they are “always giving in”, it will lead to resentment and the conflict will likely intensify each time it comes back around again.

As you read through these different conflict response styles there may have been one that jumped out for you. If so, which one?

Or, you might be thinking that you typically have one conflict response style at work yet at home the style is a different one, this is not uncommon.  With time, patterns of communication form in our relationships.

Others might see themselves as having two predominant styles, and it is situation dependent on which style is implemented.

Maybe you find yourself “dancing between the styles” using them interchangeably, or have a little bit of each in how you deal with difficult conversations and conflict.

In the next posts we’ll be covering each style in more depth and providing tangible tips to work with different conflict response styles.