Most dispute resolution experts agree that there are five common conflict management styles, though there may be others as well. The five distinct styles are force, accommodation, avoidance, compromise, and collaboration. Choosing the best option among various conflict management styles generally depends on the particular circumstances. Many people are usually comfortable with one or two of the styles, regardless of the issue. Despite having preferred methods that they use most of the time, however, people may sometimes face situations in which it could be difficult, or even dangerous, not to use a different strategy. When resolving workplace conflict, it is important to recognize that one’s usual strategy may be inappropriate for addressing the matter, and that adjustment may be necessary.
Force as a conflict management strategy entails taking advantage of one’s professional position or other type of authority to coerce or intimidate others and ultimately get what one wants. This tactic can often be perceived as an abuse of power or authority. Yet there are situations in which using force is necessary to achieve the desired results. For instance, managers and others in positions of authority often must impose their will to make a quick decision or resolve a conflict efficiently.
When someone uses accommodation, he or she gives in to the other party and does not assert his or her own interests. While it may appear to demonstrate weakness, sometimes this is an appropriate strategy when the issue is unimportant to one of the parties. He or she chooses to accommodate the other one's wishes in order to resolve the issue effectively.
Avoidance typically involves staying out of the situation altogether, by pretending that it does not exist or by letting someone else handle it. Unlike other conflict management styles, this is not usually the most effective strategy for solving workplace disputes. Unless some other issues take precedence and there is some benefit to putting off a confrontation, avoidance may be more likely to lead to long-term problems between employees.
Compromise is a popular option when choosing among conflict management styles. In a compromise, each of the parties agrees to let some desires or needs go in order to gain others. As a result, neither side gets everything that it wants.
When collaborating, the parties attempt to find the optimal solution in which everyone wins. Of all conflict management styles, this strategy typically involves the most open communication. Each side usually makes a conscious effort to hear and understand the other party’s objectives, while effectively communicating their own desires.
Failing to communicate is one way to create a hostile work environment. Most conflict experts agree that communication and collaboration are more likely to lead to respect and harmony in the workplace. Some managers, however, might be unsure of the best way to deal with small problems or urgent issues that do not have time to be worked out through a long collaborative process. In these cases, it is usually up to the workplace supervisors to use their best judgment to arrive at a satisfactory outcome.