Classic Responses to Conflict

By Dawna Jones

When conflicts surface, fear and doubt can commandeer any kind of rational thought, and before you know it, you’ve said something you regret or done something you wish you hadn’t. The classic fear-based response is the fight or flight response — neither of which uses the moment wisely.

Common responses to conflict

To better handle tense situations, you need to understand what conflict-resolution strategy you rely on in any given situation. The table outlines the common responses. (Hint: The best response when dealing with complicated situations or decisions is to use conflict to collaborate or to flow into finding a solution.)

Strategies for Dealing with Conflict
Strategy Appropriate When . . . Not Appropriate When . . .
Avoiding conflict The issue doesn’t have a big impact or great importance
to you.
You wouldn’t feel victimized if you walked away from the
conversation.
The issue is a symptom of much bigger issues.
If you don’t step into the discussion, you’ll feel
victimized by subsequent actions.
Accommodating people The issue matters more to them than it does to you.
You want to show support or goodwill.
Your commitment is required.
The solution presented violates your principles and values.
Forcing the decision Quick, decisive action is required to ensure you achieve your
goals.
The commitment of others is not required.
You simply want to get your way.
Doing so breaks trust or damages relationships.
The decision collides with team values.
Compromising results Goals, concerns, needs are far apart, and you don’t have
the time to find common ground.
Building the relationship is more important than completing the
task.
No one is satisfied with an incomplete piece of the promising
solution.
You take this approach simply because you don’t want to take
the time to honestly collaborate.
Collaboration You need to work through hard feelings to understand the
diverse perspectives.
Commitment to the solution is needed, and the relationship is
important.
The issue is relatively unimportant to all parties.
Neither side cares enough about the relationship.

Deal with conflict collaboratively

To move from the fight or flight response to a collaborative approach, you need to be an astute and compassionate observer and then bring yourself back to a state of calm. Alternatively, you need to be self-aware enough to recognize you’re emotionally compromised and then take a timeout before refocusing on the task. To prepare yourself to work positively with tension-filled situations, try one or more of the following:

  • Center yourself. Restoring calm to your feelings and mind enable them to work together. When you are centered, you can see the situation with a clearer mind. Deep breathing (breathing from your diaphragm) is one way to silence the mental arguments. You can use deep breathing before you go into a tense situation and even while you’re in the thick of things.

  • Think of the conflict as a good sign. Conflict occurs when people care about the issue. Where there is conflict, there is energy available to work with. The key is being able to direct that energy into constructive effort.

    If you view conflict in this way, you’ll enter contentious situations with a forward-looking approach that enables everyone to discover the interests or concerns. You won’t view conflict as something to fix, nor will you feel the need to judge which of the various viewpoints is right or wrong.

  • Listen carefully to understand the true intent of the person you are speaking with. Often, when listening to one another, people tend to latch onto a sound bite, jump to conclusions, and then run off with the wrong idea. As you can imagine, the situation ends badly.

    Listening intently means letting go of preconceived notions and paying attention to the values and concerns underlying what is being said with the intention of understanding the situation.

    When you listen intently, you gain insight into what lies at the heart of the matter for all. You’ll walk away knowing whether the business culture is causing the situation or whether you’re witnessing unintended consequences.

Trust that conflict can be utilized to benefit relationships and quality decisions. Being willing to change is a sign of strength, as long as the changes you make are in line with your values.