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People often ask me to spell out the difference between
accommodating and avoiding. Or, as some say, “Isn’t accommodating
also an easy way to avoid, since you can quickly remove yourself from
the situation by giving in to the other person? What’s the difference?”
The key distinction for me is to assess whose needs get met, and
to what extent, as a result of using a particular conflict mode. In
particular, if your behavior results in the other person getting his
needs met while you don’t, that’s an unambiguous definition of
accommodating (high in cooperativeness and low in assertiveness).
True, you may quickly escape the situation after you let the other
person have his way, but the fact is that the other person did get what
he wanted. However, if you behave in a way that prevents both of
you from getting your needs met, which may or may not be the best
approach in that situation, your conflict mode is defined as avoiding
(low in both assertiveness and cooperativeness).
By making this distinction between different possible outcomes of
the conflict (regarding whose needs got met and to what extent),
it’s easiest to sort out the five modes—clearly easier than making
the more complex argument that you can remove yourself from a
situation by accommodating, compromising, or competing. In the latter
case, strangely enough, if you know that competitive behavior will
turn the other person off and thus allow you to avoid the situation
by competing, you could view competing as an avoidance strategy.
But, again, I find it more straightforward and convenient to say that
competing is evident when you get all of your needs met (high in
assertiveness for you) and the other person gets none of his needs met
(high in cooperativeness for him).
In essence, I am distinguishing between—and prioritizing—such
concepts as intention, behavior, and outcome, and suggesting that each
of these “perspectives” can lead to a slightly different interpretation
of which conflict mode is being used and for what purpose. Intention
is often elusive in the mind of the actor (whether conscious or not).
Indeed, sometimes the intention is justified or rationalized only after
the encounter has taken place. Sometimes, in fact, people don’t know
their intention until they’ve had time to think about their motives.
Behavior is subject to different interpretations, especially when
complex, sequential strategies are involved. But when each person
in the situation can be asked, after the fact, to what extent his needs
have been met, it is more obvious which modes have had the ultimate
impact on the outcome of that conflict situation.
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