There are five main styles in the management of conflicts. Neither of these five can be said to be the right one at all times. They fit during certain circumstances but might be un-appropriate or inefficient during others.

We can illustrate the styles in the following model:

Five conflict styles

What essentially characterizes the different styles is described below.

The five conflict styles

To adapt

I put the relationship to the other /others that are more important than my goal.

"Mitigation" is to blur out the differences in perceptions that exist between individuals while emphasizing common interests. The differences are not recognized openly. When you "adapt", an individual neglect its own interest to satisfy the other person needs.

There is an element of "sacrificing" in this style. "Adapting" can take shape from giving in to others opinions, selfish generosity or to satisfy others needs when you prefer to do so. A risk in doing this style is that the different perceptions probably will re-occur. Just like when you avoid conflicts, this style is useful when you look for a short term solution and in the situations where you are looking for temporary solutions.

To avoid or withdraw

I chose to not give priority to work towards my goal or on the relationship to others.

The individual isn't talking about his own attitude or the one that the other person has. Conflicts are ignored or suppressed. The ones involved in the conflict avoid each other or keep their feelings and their views back. It can take shape by bringing the issue aside, to postpone managing the conflict to a later, better time or that you withdraw from a threatening situation. A distinctive feature is that the conflict never becomes completely solved. Instead, the conflict is hidden or latent and reappears if the two parties come into regular contact with each other.

To compromise

I partly get what I want and to a certain grade I consider the relationship to others.

The goal with compromising is to find a mutually acceptable solution that partly satisfies both partners. It requires that each part gives something up at the same time as he gets some of his goals or needs met. None of the parts loses, no one wins. To compromise can mean to split the differences, share the benefits or quickly find a middle position.

To cooperate or to solve problems

I work both towards my goal and on the relationship to others and make sure that both these are managed in a satisfying way.

To solve problems is a "win-win" situation in solving conflicts. The two parts meet to discuss their similarities and differences in perceptions. Both take the same responsibility to identify the underlying needs for both parts and to find alternatives that will satisfy these. To cooperate can take shape to clarify the different perceptions and to learn from each other. It leads to that some of the problems gets solved that otherwise would have lead to a conflict. It also means to find creative solutions to problems between different people.

To fight

I believe my goal is more important than nurturing the relationship there and then.

To fight means that you fulfill your own goals at the expense of others. It is a power orientated way in which you use force or authority to gain advantages; you use your ability to argue, your rank or position. You hold favors, resort to economical sanctions. For solutions like these where a clear struggle has been happening, one person comes out as a "winner" and the other as a "loser".

Applying the five different styles

None of the five styles represent"the best way" to handle a conflict, each style has its own advantages and disadvantages and they are effective in different situations. Effective conflict management requires that I learn which style is effective in which situation and that I can apply the most effective style to the situation.

Filippa: What I've learnt is that that I'm not a particular style but that I had one or two favorite styles that I usually used. Then when I dared trying other ways to handle conflicts I learned to vary these styles after needs. Sure, it's still easier for me to use my favorite styles but I have won a lot from learning to use more.

The first step for me was to expose myself to conflicts and note down how I reacted, did I go in to defense, did I become curious or did I just lie down directly? When I noted this I tried to break away by leaving or saying "let's take a break for a while".

I then figured out what I wanted to try and do to what I normally didn't. Went back and tried this at the same time as I noted what result it gave. Afterwards I could usually talk to the one I had had the conflict with to hear how they had experienced me before and after the break and how the break had affected us both.

I have changed my view to conflicts, I see it more like"we have a different way of looking at this" or maybe not...? Find out how it is instead of assuming that you are on opposite sides. I've had several discussions where we after a while has realized that we are thinking the same thing but we said it differently, misunderstanding are more common that you think.

It isn't as important for me today that the goal is that we will think the same way but that it is perfectly fine to agree to disagree. My goal nowadays is to learn as much as possible about myself and others.

A tip that I also can give is to break old patterns, we often have a pattern when we have conflicts with the same people. Break this by doing something completely unexpected and crazy and that makes the both of you to lose focus on the conflict. This could be anything from standing up and singing to throwing water, to ask a question about something un-related such as "which is the absolute best day of your life?" or "what's your worse tickle spot?", force them to answer the question even though they want to continue the discussion.

They will then be forced to change their state in order to answer the question and you too to be able to ask it. You have broken an old pattern and can create a new better one.

Different kinds of conflicts

Conflict of cause

For example about what belongs to the department of education and what belongs to the department of personnel?

Role conflict

Who should do what. Territorial infringement. Things ends up between two chairs.

Pseudo conflict

Misunderstandings. We walk around thinking things about each other.

Conflict of interest

Someone is for example interested in doing a good job; others are just there to earn the money and surviving.

Conflict of value

For example, conflicts due to different religion, culture, political orientation or what is right and wrong in life.

Conflict of needs

For example the different needs in people, social needs or the need of security etc.

Conflict of authority

Some people can't stand bosses or leaders of different reasons that they might not be aware of themselves.

Markus: I have learnt during my journey of life to listen what the conflict is really about. What kind of conflict is it? Sometimes it could be one kind because of the words being said, but if you listen deeper to the whole person you will find that it is about something else.

An example can be a hot discussion about who should be doing the dishes which seems could be about one thing, the dishes, or about roles, who should do what? If you look under the surface it could instead be about needs, for example that both should help in the home, being a team.

My partner and I have had this discussion/conflict a few times about where it has become clear that when we listen more attentively to each other it isn't about the thing, in this case the dishes, but about the need to feel that we are a team.

So a hot tip for a hot conflict is to ask yourself "what is this really about?" and a good way to find out is to put the big listening ears on and start asking questions like "in what way is this important to you?", "I would really like to know a bit more about how you feel in connection to this, do you mind telling me?" And remember, practice makes perfect, it might feel a bit weird in the beginning and it is definitely worth practicing on.

Two different views on conflicts

Harmony ViewConflict View
Conflicts are something negative and bad. Conflicts are natural between people.
Conflicts are caused by trouble makers. Conflicts can't be avoided.
Conflicts are possible to avoid. Conflicts are often enriching.
Conflicts should be eliminated or suppressed. Conflicts can and should be managed.
The harmony view often leads to conflicts The conflict view often leads to harmony

You choose your approach to conflicts. You make this choice early in life, and you get help from your attitudes and values. Your values are often something you have inherited by others.

The harmony view is built on wishful thinking and is a kind of escape from reality that ultimately will lead to conflict. It can be hard to break away from an old and well set view on conflicts.

The choice of conflict view quite often leads to harmony as you don't have to feel guilty or lose energy when the conflicts arise.

Homework assignment

Take a moment to yourself to, with paper and pen, and reflect over:

What conflict view do I have? What did I learn about conflicts when I grew up? How did my parents handle conflicts?

What does my"history of conflicts" look like? When I think back on my life, what is it I remember about the conflicts? What did I let this conflict mean afterwards? What lesson did I bring about myself/others/conflicts afterwards?

Which style of conflict do I use the most? Which one do I use the least?

What conflicts have I had lately? What/which kind of conflict was it about? Can I guess that there was another type of conflict under "the surface"?


Couple with laptop studying relationships