The Best Way to Resolve Conflict

Interpersonal competence is one of the five keys to success in your life and career.  I discuss it and the other four in “Straight Talk for Success.”  If you want to become interpersonally competent you need to be self aware, and use your self awareness to better understand others.  You must build strong, long lasting mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in your life.  Finally, you must become adept at resolving conflict positively.

How good are you at each of these three?

Today I’d like to focus on conflict resolution.  I know a little bit about conflict resolution.  It was the topic of my dissertation at Harvard.  Way back in the 1970’s Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed an instrument to measure a person’s tendencies when in a conflict situation.

They came up with five predominant conflict styles: Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating and Avoiding. Their research suggests that all five are appropriate depending on the situation.

In my executive coaching experience, however, I have found that the Collaborating style is the best default mode.  When you collaborate with others to resolve conflict, you focus on meeting both your needs and needs of the other person. I like this style because it helps you bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution.

When you collaborate, neither person is likely to feel as if he or she won or lost.  Also, collaborating with the person or persons with whom you are in conflict creates the opportunity for you to work together to build a solution that best addresses everyone’s concerns.

I find that when I work collaboratively with someone, I focus on our similarities, not our differences.  This creates a bond that not only helps us get through our conflict, but helps us strengthen our relationship.

The common sense point here is simple.  Interpersonally competent people are adept at resolving conflict in a positive manner.  Collaboration is the best choice of the five most common handling styles.  When you collaborate with others – especially those with whom you are in conflict — you not only are likely to resolve your conflict in a positive manner, you will strengthen your relationship with the other person.  It’s a win-win.

That’s my take on handling conflict productively.  What’s yours?  As always, I’m interested in your perspective on these thoughts.  I welcome and appreciate your comments.  Thanks for reading.


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  1. Collaborative conflict resolution requires both people to check their egos at the door — something that seems beyond the grasp of many business people. Among my clients, I find a lot of people who still see everything in terms of “winners” and “losers”. It takes time to wean them from that position, and even longer for them to realize that collaboration means everyone wins. It’s like successful negotiation — all parties walk away feeling like they got what they wanted.
    What I try to remember is, it’s not necessary for someone to “lose” in order for me to feel like I’ve “won”.

  2. I am active in my local Rotary Club. When I had a conflict with one of the members I was afraid that it could not be resolved. I was determined to get back on track and offered to help him on a project he was passionate about. During our collaboration we both focused on the work that needed to be done and the goal that was to be accomplished, and now neither of us can remember what we had disagreed on in the past.

  3. Connie:
    Great story. Thanks for sharing it. It’s interesting how working together to accomplish something makes you forget the differences and disagreements of the past.
    Thanks again for your comment. I really appreciate it.

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