Dictator or Doormat? How Your Personality Type Determines Your Conflict Style

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. 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.

Rachel Suppok

Rachel holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and usually a cup of coffee. She is an INTJ, but she is not a super-villain. Yet.

Folow Rachel on Twitter @rsuppok.


Opa (not verified) says...

Hmmm.... I dont think all of the extraverted types
are demanding or assertive. Im a mix between a
ENTP and a ENFJ and I dont consider myself an
assertive person. I actually panic whenever
people put me in charge.

janyaadi says...

The study reflects general findings. It isn't saying that all ENTP's or ENFJ's are assertive. It's saying that over a large sample size, they are more likely to be assertive than nonassertive.

Guest (not verified) says...

I have an INTP friend who is most definitely NOT compromising or accommodating. He's VERY competitive, so much so that I find my ISFP self reacting either in anger or avoidance. I try to be compromising most of the time, in general, however.

Oran Ryan (not verified) says...

Interesting. I would definitely seek to avoid conflict (INTP). But sometimes things that are said are so patently inconsistent that it annoys me. The problem being when I point out that which doesn’t make sense (And I mean in a pretty diplomatic way - I use humour mostly) wow - there can be quite a reaction. A big reaction. I have had folks just get up and walk away, which is alarming to me, and confusing. Any other INTPs out there have that issue?

tryinggames19980 says...

Lol, is that ( Any other INTPs out there have that issue?) even a question?

Remember that people are made of pride and vanity..., and the smaller their personality and mind the more inevitable it is they'll equate "something I did/said doesn't make sense" with "I don't make sense". Surprise that big reactions are triggered? :)

So, this is typical of humans — anything but flattery or deep euphemism will elicit aggressive, defensive-aimed, reactions —, and it's quite obvsious we the INTP are the most likely to meet such situations :))

Judi Brown (not verified) says...

I'm an INTJ/P (on the Myers-Briggs test result chart, the Judging side bordering the Perceiving side).
With a number of people of other types, stating my opinions diplomatically and even at times with a bit of humor with no intent to offend, has been met with misunderstandings. It seems stating something figuratively instead of concretely irritates many people. I've had people say to me: "You are weird!" Or, they throw some aggressively negative expletive. Shocking - many times!

Prairie Girl (not verified) says...

I am also INTP. I will compromise and accommodate, the desire for understanding all points, most assuredly is me. Any incongruency or irrationality so maddening. People either walk or will beleaguere points. I do like some amount of consensus, and that is probably the understanding aspect. I am not conventional in problem-solving, and will explore other options. I so often will hear we have never done it like that. I factor in resistance especially if the change is large.

Jo INTP (not verified) says...

Yes, I have found this to be true in every way...the humor as well - to soften stating the obvious

Tony Sh (not verified) says...

Well as an ISTJ I would seek to avoid an argument, but as arguments are often unavoidable I will take a position.

And like a typical ISTJ, the argument will come down to "what are the facts"?

And if the facts indicate that compromise and accommodation will mean ignoring the facts (this sounds to me more like a "feeling" reaction than a "thinking" reaction, and a "perception" reaction rather than a "judgement" reaction frankly), then I will offer nothing by way of compromise or accommodation. Stubbornly and quietly maybe (introspection being what is), but without fear or favour.

Judi Brown (not verified) says...

As an INTP, it seems that we need to be ready and expect misunderstandings. As Intuitives, we are most likely to speak 'figuratively' instead of the more conventional 'concretely' style as most Sensing types speak. Sensing types: SPs and SJs make up about 85% of the general population. NFs and NTs = the other 15%....

Eres (not verified) says...

As an INTJ, I tend to not engage in arguments but rather readily treat them, if they may occur, as discussions where constructiveness and calmness take place. I don't avoid or retreat, I state my ideas and thoughts straight out with consistency, clartiy and sincerity to minimize misunderstandings or miscommunications. I don't hesitate in starting discussions as long as it provides a balanced ground for people within it and help clear things up for everyone. I've always carried a one definite mindset that it is more helpful to let arguments be in the form of discussions where involved parties take turns sharing their feelings and thoughts honestly. In addition, I don't let myself be swept away by the people who choose to do so or people who avoid confrontations. If there are hints of disagreements or conflicts, it's always better, at least for me, to clarify things with honest perspectives. Finding compromises, agreeing on differences, accepting contradictory views, honoring and seeing personal values, etc..., anything but silent stubbornness, avoidance and ambiguity is in my radar of trustworthy methods for resolving conflicts.

elendorado says...

Well... I'm a 100% ISTJ, but, according to the above-metioned University of Arizona test, my conflict type is cometitive. That might seem an anomaly, but the answer is probably that my mother is a borderline (BPD), which is why being assertive and loud is sometimes unavoidable. No matter how conflict-avoidant and patient you are by nature, THIS can be trained :-)...

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