I don’t like conflict. I’m scared of it. I don’t want people to be upset with me; I don’t want people to think I’m upset with them. Conflict is stressful and instills in me a strong desire to RUN AWAY. I shut down both physically and emotionally, and I fail to deal with the issue at hand.
I want everyone to be happy. I want this to happen without actually having to talk about the things that make me, and other people, unhappy. But I can’t avoid unhappy situations indefinitely. With 7 billion people on this planet, and no two of us alike, conflict is unavoidable. I can’t hide away forever from my emotions and the emotions of others.
In mission training I learned that my approach to conflict has a name: I am an Avoider, or Turtle. Turtles believe that any conflict, regardless of what it is or how it is handled, will inevitably harm relationships. We thus avoid conflict at all costs. We hide in our turtle shells and refuse to come out to talk. However, when cornered or forced into conflict we aren’t ready to deal with, some Turtles (like me) might lash out in anger. The typically conflict-avoidant Turtle has now morphed into a Snapping Turtle. Ouch!
Perhaps you also dislike conflict, but instead of running away from it, you simply give in to everyone else’s wishes, never voicing your own. If you want everyone to be happy and are willing to give up your own wants and desires in order to maintain harmonious relationships, then you might be an Accommodator, or Teddy Bear. Teddy Bears, like Turtles, wish to preserve relationships. Instead of outright escapism, though, Teddy Bears ensure that in any given situation, everybody except themselves is satisfied. They try to make everyone happy, but they are in danger of never feeling “heard” by others.
Or maybe you’re not afraid of conflict at all. Maybe you’re so confident that your solution is correct that you won’t even consider other people’s ideas. If so, you might be a Shark, or Competitor. (And you might be interested to know that Turtles and Teddy Bears are petrified of you.) When a decision must be made quickly, you have the ability to lead a group and make that decision both quickly and confidently. However, in slower situations, people may feel you do not value them or their contributions. People want you to listen to them and take their perspective into account when making a decision, something that is not easy for you to do.
There are a couple other conflict styles. A Compromiser, or Fox, wants everyone in a given situation to give up something they want, with the assurance that they will receive something else they want. Everyone wins a little, and everyone loses a little. Ideally, everyone receives something they want, but each person is also missing something they want. That’s because Compromisers are looking for a “good enough” solution in the quickest time possible — and this is especially helpful in a time crunch. However, Compromisers can sometimes be seen as acting too quickly to reach a solution, making people feel “unheard.”
The last style is the Collaborator, or Owl. A Collaborator is similar to a Compromiser, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. But where a Compromiser wants everyone to win a little and lose a little, a Collaborator wants everyone to feel 100% satisfied with the outcome, and they are willing to work as long as it takes to find that perfect solution. Although they care about everyone’s happiness level, coworkers can be frustrated by the slowness of the Collaboration process. The Collaborator, likewise, can become frustrated when people aren’t willing to work on a problem as long as he or she is willing. Incidentally, in mission training, we learned that Collaborators are often the most frustrated people on the mission field. They want a perfect solution every time, and that’s just not possible.
So what happens when all these conflict styles try to interact?
- Turtles run away from important discussions. The Turtle is scared, and hiding meets the Turtle’s need to avoid conflict. Other styles want to discuss the problem at hand, but they become frustrated by the Turtle’s refusal.
- Teddy Bears make everyone happy, right? But nobody can help them, because nobody knows what they want. Compromisers and Collaborators often want to know how Teddy Bears (and Turtles) feel. They value every person’s input and want to make a decision that incorporates everyone’s needs. When they can’t coax the Turtles and Teddy Bears to share their needs, Collaborators and Compromisers become frustrated.
- Competitive Sharks may get things done quickly, but they risk alienating people while doing it. And they don’t just alienate Turtles and Teddy Bears – they can also alienate Compromisers and Collaborators, who want everyone’s input to be valued, including theirs.
- What about when a Shark meets another Shark? Sounds scary to my Turtle self. Let’s not even go there.
- A Compromiser may try to get to a solution too fast and fail to listen closely enough to people. Compromisers might convince people to give up too much too soon when making a decision, and they might not realize that’s hurting people.
- Collaborators want to find a perfect solution, and they don’t care how long it takes to get there. If you’re a Collaborator and people don’t want to talk to you, it might be because they know the discussion will be L-O-N-G. A solution that makes 100% of the people 100% happy may not be feasible. So you might need to settle for less-than-perfect and learn a few things from the Compromiser.
Knowing I’m a Turtle has helped me understand why I react to certain people’s conflict styles. It explains past relationship patterns, and it illuminates current relational issues.
As a Turtle, I’ve often felt a sense of pride in the fact that I preserve relationships by avoiding conflict. But pride is bad news, and the supposed relationship preservation is only partly true, anyway. Sometimes relationships are preserved by actually talking about sensitive subjects, instead of avoiding them.
I’m learning that if I avoid all difficult conversations, I risk growing bitter about an issue. I’m learning that I can’t just think about myself and my own personal need to avoid conflict. I’m learning that sometimes I need to love someone enough to broach difficult subjects.
I’m learning that I can have calm, rational conversations about sticky subjects. I’m learning that these conversations can be gracious and kind instead of the violent explosions I expect them to be. And I’m finding that these kinds of conversations can lead to solutions I had never even thought of.
In short, I’m learning that I can and must grow in conflict resolution — and that it’s not as scary as I had always thought.
What about you? Which conflict style do you favor most? Do you tend to Avoid, Accommodate, Compromise, Collaborate, or Compete?
Is there a conflict style that’s particularly difficult for you to interact with?
How has God used your conflict style to benefit relationships?
How do you think God wants to stretch you in your approach to conflict?