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How People with Different Conflict Styles Can Work Together

Everyone falls under one of two categories when it comes to their approach to conflict: They’re either conflict pursuers or conflict avoiders. Neither of these is the “right” approach, and we actually switch between them at times. However, different approaches to conflict must be considered according to whether people avoid or seek it. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo gives a rundown of the two conflict styles and different matches that may occur:

  • You’re both avoiders.
  • You’re both seekers.
  • You’re a seeker and your counterpart is an avoider.
  • You’re an avoider and they’re a seeker.

When Conflict Styles Clash

Simply, conflict avoiders are the people who want to avoid conflict to preserve group harmony, and conflict pursuers actively identify conflicts for the sake of honesty and arriving at conclusions. There is a time and a place for both.

There is a chance that you may have conflict with someone that you don’t know well. Instead of flying in blind, you should gather a little information on the other person before the two of you talk. Finding patterns in their behavior can help indicate how they may react to conflict. Observe how direct they are and how they respond to disagreement. Gallo says that getting input about people from others can help you gain some important info too:

You might ask a colleague or two for input into your coworker’s personality. Don’t go around grilling others about them, but ask people to confirm or deny your own observations. Say something like, “I noticed Jim flew off the handle in that meeting. Is that typical?” or “I saw Katerina avoid engaging with Tomas when he questioned whether her figures were right. Did you see the same thing?” Obviously, you have to trust the person you’re asking — you don’t want your colleague to find out you’re snooping on them.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions directly, but do so tactfully–perhaps by talking about your own style for handling confrontation first. Make it a natural conversation, not an interrogation.

If you’re both conflict avoiders, then you both might avoid the hypothetical issue until the pressure builds up to you two exploding later on. Avoid this by being mindful enough to initiate conversation. Your natural instinct may be to shy away, but you’re going to have to fight it. At the least, you can make things less awkward by addressing the elephant in the room that neither of you likes conflict, but a discussion has to happen.

Now if you’re both seekers, then there’s the problem of the discussion becoming heated because you’re both being as blunt and truthful as possible. The trick here is to take some time to prepare for the conversation. Plan plenty of breaks and maybe even a walk or two to help you both cool down.

If you’re dealing with a seeker when you’re an avoider, it’s good practice to be direct, respectful, and explicitly state that you are trying to have a productive conversation. It’ll keep your opinion from being trampled in the conversation. Conversely, when you’re the seeker and they’re the avoider, be patient and ask them to participate frequently. That way, you can both be constructive in the face of conflict.

You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/07/how-people-with-different-conflict-styles-can-work-together

About Austin J. Gruver

Austin is a Staff Writer for AITS. He has a background in professional writing from York College.

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