Since the 2016 election season is in full swing, you might want to brace yourself for some conflict with family, friends, and your TV screen during debates. Even if you’re not politically inclined, you’ll probably have to face conflict in the near future in some facet of your life. One of the reasons why resolving conflicts is so difficult and often unpleasant is that different people have different styles of handling conflict.
In order to deal with conflict more effectively and less painfully, you should understand the conflict styles of both yourself and anyone you might be facing conflict with—and a personality test can help. Both Myers Briggs personality typing and the Big Five model of personality can help you predict and understand how people act during times of conflict.
Personality Type And Conflict Styles
While the full four-letter personality type according to Briggs Myers' system is important in understanding how people respond to conflict, the greatest areas of conflict exist between the Feeling-Thinking and Judging-Perceiving preferences. Thus, the last two letters of a personality type have been deemed the conflict pairs.
The Thinking and Feeling facets of personality generally points to the location that an individual directs his or her attention during a conflict. Thinkers are more likely to look at the facts of the situation, as well as the opinions and principles of the people involved in the conflict. Conversely, Feelers tend to focus on the interpersonal dynamics of the situation and the needs and emotions of the people involved. It’s not hard to imagine how these different styles of approaching conflict could lead to additional tension between Thinkers and Feelers who are already having a disagreement.
The Judging and Perceiving elements of personality help to determine how an individual makes decisions about the conflict. Judgers tend to be more interested in how the present conflict impacts the future and are satisfied only after the conflict has ended. On the other hand, Perceivers focus on the input of others who are also involved in the conflict, and experience satisfaction simply when the conflict is being addressed. Again, the differences between how Judgers and Perceivers approach and experience conflicts can clearly present problems.
If you take all the possible combinations of the conflict pairs, you end up with four main conflict styles in Briggs Myers' framework: TJ, TP, FJ, and FP. According to the official MBTI® Conflict Style Report,1 each of these four conflict pairs have a different desired outcome from situations involving conflict. The report says that FPs desire respectful listening; FJs want their relationships to remain intact; TPs wish to see progress; TJs are mostly interested in closure and/or resolution.
Conflict and the Big Five
Of course, people’s personalities go far beyond the last two letters of just their personality type (thank goodness!), and people’s scores on the dimensions of the Big Five (a.k.a. the Five Factor Model) are also correlated with their typical conflict styles. In case you need a refresher on the Big Five personality dimensions, they are extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument2 is the most commonly used model for understanding how people handle conflict. This model shows five conflict management styles: competing, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising. Accommodating and collaborating are considered to be highly cooperative styles, whereas competing and avoiding are uncooperative styles. Additionally, competing and collaborating are more assertive styles, while avoiding and accommodating are not. Compromising lies squarely in the middle of both cooperativeness and assertiveness.
In a study conducted at the University of Madison, extraversion positively correlated with assertiveness, while agreeableness and neuroticism were correlated with lower assertiveness. Agreeableness and neuroticism were also positively correlated with avoidance, while the other three were negatively correlated with avoidance. A Pakistani study that looked only at extraversion and openness found that participants who scored high in both extraversion and openness tended to prefer compromising in handling conflict.
If you want to know what your conflict style is, there are plenty of online quizzes to help you figure that out. I took this one from the University of Arizona, and it told me that I prefer the avoiding style of conflict management. This basically means that I prefer to not have conflict ever. This was not ground-breaking for me as I already recognized that I hate conflict and will do just about anything to avoid it. Chances are, you already have a decent idea of what conflict style you use the most, but I recommend taking the quiz either way, since knowing your own method for handling conflict is the best first step to improving your interaction with others in times of conflict.
Finding Your Conflict Style
Most of the research on personality type and conflict style seemed to hold true for me personally, as a conflict avoidant person. (Admittedly, this is a tiny sample size of n = 1.) I'm an INTJ, which means I have a conflict pair of TJ. True to the theory of conflict pairs, I am fact-oriented in arguments, but I will agree with more emotional arguments if it means we can resolve the conflict and have closure. As for the Big Five, I score very low on extraversion and relatively high on neuroticism, both of which would point toward a tendency to avoid conflict—which we have already established that I have. So, for me at least, all these theories about personality types and conflict styles are valid.
Using a combination of what I’ve learned about conflict styles and personality, I’ve managed to piece together an idea of how each of the sixteen personality types is likely to react in the face of conflict.
ESTJ – Assertive, likely competitive. Seeks closure.
ESTP – Assertive, probably collaborative. Seeks progress.
ESFJ – Collaborative or compromising. Seeks to maintain relationships and interpersonal dynamics.
ESFP – Collaborative or compromising. Seeks to be heard.
ENTJ – Assertive, likely competitive, but possibly willing to collaborate. Seeks closure.
ENTP – Assertive, most likely collaborative. Seeks progress and understanding.
ENFJ – Collaborative or compromising. Seeks to maintain relationships.
ENFP – Assertive, most likely collaborative. Seeks to have ideas and feelings understood.
ISTJ – Compromising, accommodating, or avoidant. Seeks to obtain an effective outcome but hesitant to start an argument.
ISTP – Compromising or accommodating. Seeks to move on from conflict.
ISFJ – Compromising or accommodating. Seeks to resolve conflict and avoid offense.
ISFP – Compromising, accommodating, or avoidant. Seeks to understand others’ feelings.
INTJ – Compromising, accommodating, or avoidant. Seeks closure but hesitant to start an argument.
INTP – Compromising or accommodating. Seeks understanding of others’ ideas.
INFJ – Compromising, accommodating, or avoidant. Seeks to maintain relationships.
INFP – Compromising or accommodating. Seeks to understand others’ opinions and feelings.
Now, how can you use this information for yourself? Well, as I already suggested, you should know your own conflict style so that you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and recognize your own shortcomings in conflict management. Then, if you have an idea of the personality types of those around you, you can probably predict how they will respond in moments of conflict.
For example, if you know that you are dealing with a type that’s more likely to be an avoidant person, like me, you may have to try a little harder to coax an opinion out of them. But if you are facing conflict with someone who uses a more assertive style—such as competitive—you’re not going to have to worry about coaxing forth opinions, as they will likely come pouring out. Instead, you’re going to have to make sure that you make your voice heard in a respectful way.
No matter who you’re in conflict with, remember to use those “I” statements that conflict resolution courses and books always talk about. As in telling your roommate, “I spent a lot of money on that fancy cheese, and so I was upset to see that it had all been eaten,” rather than, “How dare you eat all of my expensive cheese you pig!” If you’re talking to someone who's very assertive, you don’t want to anger them further or make them more defensive with accusations. And if you’re talking to an avoidant person, attacking and accusing them is just going to make them shrink back into their turtle shell.
I’d be interested to hear in the comments about what personality types people are and which of the five Thomas-Kilman Conflict Modes they use. And if you disagree with my assessment of how each of the sixteen types handles conflict, let me know. I can handle conflict if there’s a computer screen protecting me!
1. MBTI® is a trademark of the The Myers & Briggs Foundation.
2. TKI is a registered trademark of CPP, Inc.