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Ways of Dealing with Conflict

There are five common ways of dealing with conflict. Learning about the alternative means of handling conflict gives us a wider choice of actions to employ in any given situation and makes us better able to tailor our responses to the situation. Although listed below in an order of increasing elegance, the reality is that each of us utilizes each of these ways of dealing with conflict at least some of the time. We approach conflict in the way that we believe will be most helpful to us in our life. Our style for dealing with conflict will change with the circumstances.

Denial or Withdrawal

With this approach, a person attempts to get rid of conflict by denying that it exists. He or she simply refuses to acknowledge it. Usually, however, the conflict does not go away. It grows to the point that it becomes unmanageable. When the issue and the timing are not critical, denial may be a productive way to deal with conflict.

Suppression or Smoothing Over 

"We run a happy ship here." "Nice people don't fight." A person using suppression plays down differences and does not recognize the positive aspects of handling the conflict openly. The source of the conflict rarely goes away. Suppression may, however, be employed when it is more important to preserve a relationship than to deal with a relatively insignificant issue.

Power or Dominance

Power is often used to settle differences. Power may be vested in one's authority or position. Power may take the form of a majority (as in voting) or a persuasive minority. Power strategies result in winners and losers. The losers do not support a final decision in the same way the winners do. Future meetings of a group may be marred by the conscious or unconscious renewal of the struggle previously "settled" by the use of power. In some instances, especially where other forms of handling conflict are not effective, power strategies may be necessary.

Compromise or Negotiation

Although regarded as a virtue, compromise ("you give a little, I'll give a little, and we'll meet each other half-way") has some serious drawbacks. Such bargaining often causes both sides to assume initial inflated positions, since they are aware that they are going to have to "give a little" and want to buffer the loss. The compromise solution may be watered down or weakened to the point where it will not be effective. There may be little real commitment by any of the parties. Still, there are times when compromise makes sense, such as when resources are limited or a speedy decision needs to be made.

Integration or Collaboration

This approach suggests that all parties to the conflict recognize the interests and abilities of the others. Each individual's interests, positive intentions and desired outcomes are thoroughly explored in an effort to solve the problems in a maximizing way. Participants are expected to modify and develop their original views as work progresses.

Participants come to appreciate that the apparent presenting problem does not need to limit their discussions. Participants are encouraged to express the full breadth and depth of their interests, with each participant seeking to identify "value" that they can bring to the discussion and the maximized satisfaction of underlying interests and intentions. 

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