Helping Your Life Work
March 1, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 3


Globally, there are some 30 areas of major conflict raging in the world today (see the December 1, 2007 newsletter). Closer to home, some of these very same issues provide political fodder for angry and sometimes violent protests on the campuses of our universities and streets of our cities. This is not to mention the myriad personal conflicts that disrupt our schoolyards, workplaces, marketplaces and homes.

When times are tough and stress is mounting, our fuses can shorten and our reactions heighten. Perhaps, the more anxious and insecure we become and the more things feel out of control, the easier it is to take our frustrations out on others or to blame them for our problems. At a time when we should be recognizing what unites us, many are choosing to focus instead on what separates us.

There are no easy answers to the major conflicts that are being fought. But perhaps we can consider some aspects of how to resolve the ones closer to our own homes, by paying attention to how we respond to conflict.

According to the experts (Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, 1974) there are typically five ways that most of us react to conflict. Some of us will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. Others will seek it out, competing to have the final word and needing to be right. Many will try to accommodate others by conceding their own needs to satisfy the interests of those they perceive to be more powerful or needy. A number will settle their differences with compromises. And still others will collaborate to find mutually satisfying arrangements.

Each of these styles can be useful at different times. The 'Competing' style is appropriate in an emergency. The 'Accommodating' style may be best when the issue is more important to the other party. The 'Avoiding' style is preferred when people need to cool down before moving forward with the issue. The 'Compromising' style may be a good way to resolve labour-management bargaining. The 'Collaborating' style is necessary when the concerns of both parties are too important to be compromised.

If we tend to choose one style over another, we may cause others to respond in similar ways, too. If, for example, a husband has adopted a pattern of 'Competing,' his wife may, in an effort to maintain the peace, have chosen to respond in an 'Accommodating' style. Eventually, however, the 'Accommodating' wife will begin to feel resentful for having to give up her rights all the time. Similarly, if a parent and child are both stuck in an 'Avoiding' mode, then the tension never lets up and nothing gets resolved. If a 'Competing' manager never uses the 'Compromising' mode, she may find herself alienating her staff. It may seem that the 'Collaborating' style is best, but not every argument or conflict requires that kind of intense negotiation.

If you are feeling conflicted in your home or workplace and you are not sure how to resolve the issues, you may wish to discuss the problem with someone who can help. Please give me a call.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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