Most of us are familiar with the terms “fight” and “flight” associated with how we react to challenges, shocks or conflicts – our bodies tend to want to either fight back or take flight. In language terms we might say that in conflict situations we can easily tend towards either “silence” or “violence” when faced with conflict – we either withdraw into silence or attack. Of course, neither is usually appropriate, but these natural tendencies remind us that we respond physiologically and emotionally to such situations. Likewise, when we faced with a conflict situation we can choose to either empathize with the other party or not to empathize (“empathy” here meaning “I will try to understand what you are feeling”).
In the conflict diagram shown here, the above possible reactions are represented by two scales:
- The energy applied to the situation (from Passive to Active of from flight to fight)
- The empathy we express (willingness to attempt to understand the other party) (in this case from low to high).
Given the above, whenever conflict arises every individual has five response or style choices in terms of how to deal with it as follows:
- The “Exchanging” or “compromising” style arises from the mix of both high levels of effort to understand the other party and active attempts to express one’s own position. Often, this “compromising” or “exchanging” style is seen as the best, but as the word “compromise” suggests, it is often a “less-than-best” result – “I compromise a bit and you compromise a bit”; “you lose a little and I lose a little”. And sometimes that is the best we can do.
- The “Usurping” or “contending” style is one that arises from a low attempt to understand the other party but an active attempt to express one’s own position.
- The “Sacrificing” or “conceding” style is one that arises from a low attempt to understand the other party and a passive approach to expressing one’s own position.
- The “Suppressing” or “calming” style is one that arises from a high level of effort to understand the other party’s position, but a passive approach to expressing one’s own position.
- The “Integrating” style (drawing a little on all four of the above styles as the conflict unfolds) is a collaborative approach that can offer a “higher” or more flexible response with potentially much better long-term outcomes.
The first letter of each of these five response styles spells the word “ISSUE”. This helps us to remember the five conflict responses that are always available to us.