Give and Take - The Accommodating Style in Managing Conflict


by Dale Eilerman

August 2006

Dale Eilerman The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, available from Consulting Psychologist Press, identifies five conflict styles - competing, compromising, collaborating, avoiding, and accommodating - and provides guidelines regarding when each is appropriate in conflict situations. Another conflict style assessment tool, Style Matters: The Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory is also based on the Mouton-Blake Managerial Grid and uses similar terms and concepts while offering the incorporation of cultural factors.

Of the five conflict styles, accommodating or harmonizing, is viewed as the "peacekeeper" mode as it focuses more on preserving relationships than on achieving a personal goal or result. However in a dispute this creates a lose/win relationship where the accommodating party may make a choice to acquiesce to the needs of the other, sometimes out of kindness and sometimes to avoid conflict or stress. "Giving in" and letting the other person "take" is the result when this choice is made. While this may be seen as a weak or non-productive position there are situations when this approach is preferable and will gain more for a person than by taking a strong position. It can be both a productive and unproductive strategy in the "give and take" process.

The Wisdom of Choice

People who are accommodating are often described as being "nice" and find satisfaction in helping others to get their needs met. They tend to be sensitive to the feelings of others and try to be supportive, kind and nurturing. They will often put the needs of others before their own and portray a spirit of cooperation demonstrating the proverb "it is better to give than to receive". These traits were probably ingrained during childhood and may be reinforced by family, religious or other values. Individuals who have a tendency to be accommodating prefer the harmony, good will and reciprocity that is often associated with this behavior trait and feel that it serves them well most of the time. The appreciation and friendliness accommodators receive from others supports the old adage that "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar". For this reason accommodators often feel that they get more than they give by taking this approach to life.

However in situations involving disagreement individuals who accommodate the needs of others may find that they are not be able to achieve an outcome that is acceptable or fair to them. They are particularly vulnerable to people who are competitive and directive - the opposite of accommodating. Their natural reaction to avoid the stress of conflict and appease others may put them in a weak position where they can be taken advantage of. They often lose out in arguments or confrontations as they have not developed the attitude, confidence, and skills to be successful in this type of encounter. This can lead to feelings of resentment, inadequacy and loss of respect from self and others.

The key to success for people who prefer to maintain harmony through accommodating is to have the awareness to know when and how they need to move out of the accommodating position and take on a role that will enable them to be more successful when in a dispute. This does not mean that they should become angry and aggressive. Feeling backed into a corner and coming out fighting is an emotionally based reactive mode and is usually not the most productive stance to take. Either extreme of being too weak or too strong brings its own set of problems. People who are normally accommodating must develop the wisdom to know what choices to make in a given situation and learn to deal with stress and conflict in productive ways.

When is Accommodating Appropriate?

According to the Thomas-Kilmann and Kraybill literature accommodating is an appropriate form of dealing with conflict when used in the following situations:

  • When preserving or building the relationship is more important than winning the issue at hand.
  • When supporting the needs of the other party is feasible, appropriate and does not come at significant personal cost.
  • When a person realizes that they are wrong and that the alternate position is better.
  • When competing will produce a negative outcome, such as when the other person is in a position of authority or power.
  • To help someone learn and grow from the outcome of their decision, even though it may differ from their own.
  • To restore harmony during a tense moment or after a disagreement.
  • When a positive outcome is unlikely and it is better to end the dispute and move on.
  • To satisfy a complaint when in the process of providing customer service.

The "Accommodating" Conflict Preference and Myers-Briggs

Type Research using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® shows that individuals who prefer to be accommodating or harmonizers when dealing with conflict typically are more feeling than thinking oriented. They tend to be extroverted and are more likely to be perceivers rather than judgers.

The feeling preference causes the person to deal with disputes based on their emotional reaction to the impact of the problem on themselves or others rather than on objective facts or logic. People who make decisions driven by feelings are typically empathic and "other" oriented rather than self oriented, at least until they become hurt or angry.

Extroverted persons will be energized by the interactions they have while in the process of helping or pleasing others, reinforcing this approach. They may also become charged up when they are frustrated, hurt, or angry and have the potential to act impulsively. In either case the inclination to speak or act may be done before clearly thinking through the consequences of this choice. Extroverted people benefit from taking time to think through their choices before acting - whether in being helpful or in dealing with a challenge.

People who fit the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profile for perceivers tend to be flexible, adaptive, and comfortable with exploring options. For this reason they are more likely than judging types to cooperate with the requests and desires of others rather than pursue their own needs. They also tend to be slower in coming to conclusions and taking action. This dynamic itself can be a cause for stress with others who have a need reach a decision and move on. This stress will sometimes result in the perceiver "giving in" and going along with the decisions of others in order to dispel the tension.

The Myers-Briggs type characteristics of extroversion, feeling and perceiving, especially when clear or consistent in a person, reinforce the personality seen in people who are accommodating and harmonizers in their conflict style. As with all Myers-Briggs types, this can be an asset or hindrance depending on the circumstances of the situation.

Working with "Accommodating" Individuals

Individuals who exhibit the MBTI combination of Feeling-Perceiving (F-P), as is common with accommodators, will frequently experience dissonance with those who have a preference for Thinking-Judging (T-J). These conflict pairs differ in their approach to making decisions and in how the decisions are acted upon. In normal every-day situations this may be insignificant and the accommodating behavior may be appreciated by others and help to "keep the peace". However if the situation has important ramifications the normally accommodating person may need to take a different approach. When working with individuals in mediation, counseling, or coaching it is helpful to recognize the Myers-Briggs type characteristics and determine how they influence the decisions and actions of the person who is contending with conflict. Sometimes the simple awareness of these differences and how they show themselves can open the door to constructive resolution.

If the accommodating person has the characteristic MBTI extroverted-feeling-perceiving combination they will likely not want to engage in resolving a conflict unless they are passionate about the problem and/or it is a challenge to their values. In other circumstances there may be an inclination to avoid or minimize the tension by giving in and accommodating others. In either case it is important for the person to examine their feelings and assess the impact of the situation on their values, beliefs, and needs. They must be careful not to act impulsively nor become overwhelmed by their reaction to being in conflict and acquiesce to the other party.

It is helpful to utilize approaches that are the opposite of those associated with the preferred Myers-Briggs type of the "accommodating" person. Taking time to reflect on the problem, examine objective facts, and come to a conclusion on a course of action will prepare the person to move from a harmonizer role to one that will enable them to confront and negotiate more successfully. Talking to a third party about the situation including their feelings, ideas, options, and a plan can be very helpful in developing an appropriate response.

An accommodating person may need to develop skills and confidence in becoming more assertive in communicating their personal needs and boundaries. Assessing the impact of the conflict on their current and future well-being can be a powerful motivator to take a constructive course of action. Role playing or writing out a plan of action can give an accommodating person the confidence they need to deal with the conflict. Assertiveness coaching may also help. These preparatory approaches allow individuals to express their thoughts and feelings in a manner that is typically less stressful than talking about them spontaneously. When handled appropriately, accommodating people will find that confronting problem situations will earn them more respect and support than taking the softer role of giving in to the person or problem.

In situations where one party is in a relative power position over another, such as a boss and employee, a decision needs to be made regarding the merits of accommodating a decision or action vs. taking a position of difference. In some situations this can be viewed as insubordination and disciplinary action could occur. However if the differing position is well thought out, supported by data, and offers a constructive alternative it may be respected and appreciated. Being a "yes" person is not always good for the business. Most employers like to see staff who demonstrate the initiative to be thoughtful and responsible and have the courage to stand up for an idea that they believe is good for the organization.

Conclusion

The accommodating person serves many positive roles in relationships and organizations. People who prefer to serve others before themselves help to get things accomplished while preserving harmony. In times of dissonance the accommodating approach can be a disservice to both parties and contribute to dysfunction. It is important for people who demonstrate this tendency to be aware of the pros and cons of this "give and take" approach so they can make choices that will benefit them as well as those they care about.



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Biography




Dale Eilerman operates Conflict Solutions Ohio, LLC working with individuals and organizations to improve relationships and performance.  He specializes in the dynamics associated with conflict management and provides clinical counseling, coaching, consultation, training, team-building, and conciliation work including mediation.  Dale is a licensed clinical counselor and is the Director of Organizational Learning for a behavioral health organization in Dayton, Ohio.  He is also a part-time instructor at the University of Dayton and Wright State University.    Dale can be contacted at 937.219.4996 or dale@conflictsolutionsohio.com.



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