Resolving Conflict Within Your Team: Personality-based Strategies for Managers

This blog post is part of our Truity at Work series for those who are new to people management. In these posts, we’re creating useful content for managers and teams alike, helping you to understand personality, improve communication, and navigate conflict and change with ease. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.

For many people, managing conflict or navigating disagreement is one of the most challenging parts of their managerial roles. Whether it’s conflict between you and a member of your team, or resolving conflict between your team members, conflict resolution skills are key to your success as a manager.

There are many ways to resolve conflict. Some people are quick to step in and say something, others hang back and wait. We can also approach conflict differently depending on how well we know the people involved. 

However, our Myers and Briggs personality type gives us some clues about the style we are likely to default to. Knowing this, we can see the impact of our default style and develop more skill in the other, less-developed approaches. This knowledge allows us to switch styles based on the situation we are in. 

Before we dive into the five conflict resolution styles, let’s get a clearer picture of what conflict means to you. 

What does conflict mean to you?

When asked to define conflict, most people think of it as a disagreement that feels emotionally charged. If a disagreement lacks an emotional charge, then it's just a discussion of different points of view that both people can enter into easily and openly. But when one party feels emotionally triggered in some way, that becomes conflict, and that person shifts into their default conflict-resolution style.  

To understand what conflict means to you and how you approach it, start by answering these questions:

  • How do you define conflict?
  • What are some common situations in your life where conflict arises? 
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • How do you want to be approached in a conflict situation?
  • What does resolution mean to you?

From your answers, try to sense what your current approach to conflict is. Do you tend to withdraw or back away? Do you tend to become more confrontational? To what extent are you able to remain present inside the conflict? 

The five conflict-resolution styles 

Now that you have an understanding of your own conflict resolution style, let's explore the most common approaches people take. The Thomas-Killman model outlines five approaches for conflict resolution - Avoiding, Accommodating, Collaborating, Competing and Compromising. 

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As you can see from the image, these styles are a combination of two scales - Assertiveness and Cooperativeness. Those who are more assertive focus on trying to get their own needs met. Those who are more cooperative focus on trying to meet the other person or party’s needs. (We might loosely think of this as Thinkers being more task focused and therefore more assertive, and Feelers being more relationship focused and hence more cooperative. But we are all a mix of both, so we may not fall neatly into the style we might expect.) 

Each style has its own time and place. No style is better or worse than the others. The challenge is when we try to use a style that is not suited to the conflict we are in. 

Here is a brief description of the five conflict-resolutions styles. 

Avoiding

This style does not deal with the conflict. Here, you are not focused on resolving anyone’s concerns - yours or others. The aim is to diplomatically sidestep, postpone or delay until a better time, or to withdraw from a threatening situation. 

Accommodating

The style focuses on the other person’s demands, satisfying them at the expense of your own. It can be self-sacrificing, and is suited to situations where selfless generosity or charity are called for. It might also be used when you are following another person’s directive even if you don't want to, or it is not appropriate to push back on another’s point of view. 

Collaborating

This style is the opposite of avoiding. Here, we aim to find a solution that satisfies both parties' concerns and needs. Resolving the conflict can take longer as we need to take the time to discover the other person’s unspoken issues or get clearer on the points of disagreement. But it can lead to some creative problem solving where everyone leaves feeling satisfied. 

Competing

This style focuses on satisfying your own needs or demands, prioritizing them over someone else's. This is most effective when you need to use your power to stand up for your rights, defend a position you believe in, or try to win a competition.  

Compromising

This style focuses on finding a solution that partly benefits the people involved, but does not fully satisfy their needs and requirements. It can be helpful when there isn’t enough time for collaboration, or if the collaborative approach has failed. A compromise strategy can provide a quick way of finding middle ground or splitting the difference. 

Those are the five Thomas-Killman conflict-resolution styles. As you can see, they all have their place - it really depends on what the situation calls for. However, in the workplace, collaborating or compromising are generally more appropriate to move a project or a team forward.

Based on how you answered the questions above, which style do you default to more often? Which style is used most often at your workplace? 

The style you default to

If your default conflict style isn’t clear, then you might find it useful to add your Myers and Briggs personality type into the mix. Based on the research of Percival, Smitheram and Kelly,* we can see which style each of the 16 types defaults to. 

The Thinking types tend to default to competing or compromising. ExTJ males tend towards competing, while ExTJ females focus on compromising. ExTP and IxTP are more likely to start with compromising, which IxTJ’s will also do if avoiding the conflict fails. 

The Feeling types lean towards the accommodating style, especially the ExFP. But the IxFJ and IxFP will also shift to accommodating if avoidance fails. Only the ExFJ focuses on trying to collaborate first.  

How does this line up with your type and the approach you currently take?  

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What next?

This is a simple model to use with your team, especially if you already know their Myers and Briggs types. 

Start by making a list of the common conflict situations you find yourself in at work. Looking at them with an objective eye, which conflict-resolution style best suits each one? Then layer in your default conflict style. Are they the same? If not, consider how you can practice using the resolution style suited to the situation.

You can also teach this model to your team and do the same reflection activity. Looking at your team as a whole, which conflict resolution style does your team default to? How does that help or hinder your team in achieving their goals? 

Work with your team to develop and apply the appropriate style to the situation.  With practice, you and your team will be able to handle conflict with ease. 

Want to increase your conflict-resolution skills? Let Truity guide you and your teams to greater cooperation with personality assessments and workshops designed for the workplace. This means less time on conflict management and more time spent on what matters most – growing your business! Sign up now at Truity at Work. 

*Percival, T.Q., Smitheram, V., & kelly, M. (1992). Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and conflict-handling intention: An interactive approach. Journal of Psychological Type, 23, 10-16. 

 

Samantha Mackay

Samantha is the Lead Trainer at Truity and will shortly be a certified Enneagram Coach. She believes our personality is the key to navigating life's strangest hurdles. Despite her best efforts Samantha is an ENTP and Enneagram 7, who is always surrounded by a pile of books, a steaming cup of tea and a block of her favourite chocolate. Samantha is currently studying with Beatrice Chestnut and Uranio Paes of CP Enneagram Academy undertaking their Professional Enneagram Certification. Currently located in Auckland, New Zealand. Find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samanthamackay/. Check out her course "Unlocking the Power of Your Personality" at www.truity.com/training

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