European Youth Portal
Information and opportunities for young people across Europe.

Do you bare your teeth or tuck your tail? Conflict strategies

Conflicts happen to everyone. And they aren’t bad al all! However, our reactions to conflict might not be very good. Check which is yours – and what you can change.

Psychologists distinguish five types of reactions to violent differences of opinions: competition, avoidance, accommodation, compromise and cooperation. They are described in the book “Interpersonal conflict” by professors Wiliam W. Wilmot and Joyce L. Hocker. When do they work and when fail? How to modify them?

Conflict? I’m out of here!

IT'S YOUR STYLE, IF: you run away from awkward situations; do not you come back to misunderstandings, do not talk about them; do not want to quarrel, prefer to cut off the discussion; in the dispute you often change the subject to avoid confrontation. And what is the result? You must too often give up your ideas and needs.


What can you do?

A few hours after the exchange of opinions with other person, think: was really your behaviour adequate to the situation? Was it possible to solve the dispute better? Are you satisfied with the result? If it was a trifle – you eased up, and that’s good. This style works great when someone not so important to us is trying to make our lives difficult: a stranger makes a malicious comment, someone on the Web anonymously makes a full of bile comment about you. You ignore them and carry on, that’s fine.


But if the conflict concerned a matter important to you, e.g. a person older than you and more experienced took it out on you by shouting at you without any clear reason – you do not have to remain silent. It is not too late to opt for confrontation in a gentle tone. Return to the subject at the appropriate moment – when you feel ready. “Eva, yesterday I said that I didn't feel offended, and that there was nothing to talk about... Today I realize that is not the case. Can we talk about it?".


Well, just you wait!

IT'S YOUR STYLE, IF: you use all available measures to get your ideas accepted; it's hard to convince you, in the conflict you keep repeating your opinion like a broken record and close yourself to other possibilities. Thanks to this method you very often win the battle – but ... you lose the war. You lose friends.


What can you do?

If in the conflict your style of acting is based on competition, it is probable that you enter into many situations “armed for battle”. You go to the meeting and your colleague says: “Well, you know, we have an impression that these costs are a little exaggerated ...”, and you interrupt him with aggressive tone: “I guess you have no idea about the market reality! Don’t speak, if have no idea what you’re talking about, ok?”.


Immediate attack. Try out an interesting trick: before you go to an important meeting, a conversation with people who are of different opinions from yours, stay for a while alone in your room (or go out for five minutes on a terrace, corridor) and tell yourself: “I am not going on a war”. Breathe deeply and make such a gesture, as if you ungirt the invisible sword and took the invisible helmet off.


When there is a difference of opinion, you feel that your blood pressure increases and you’re about to answer sharply – instead take five deep breaths. Say: “I'm sorry. Can we talk about this later?”. Avoid the squabble to be able to work in a more deliberately planned way in a couple of hours or in two days.

I will give up, if you will also give up!

IT'S YOUR STYLE, IF YOU: usually seek the agreement; try to find any way to get out of the impasse; in negotiations you willingly give up something, if you can count on the concession of the other party, even if you are not fully satisfied. And what is the result? The problem is that in most cases you are not satisfied at all with the result of the talks.


What can you do?

People focus on the fact that they are different, and they want to get what they want – or at least, they do not want to lose (in any case not more than the other party). Meanwhile, if we take a deep look into the motivation of each of the parties, aspirations, it might result that it is possible to have your cake and eat it. It's called the orange strategy. Two sisters are arguing about the orange, and later it comes out that one of them needed the pulp for the juice, and the other – the peel to candy.


So first of all you need to know: what's the matter? What does the interlocutor most care about and whether they really care about it? Weather their proposal makes sense? And what I care about the most? How can we reconcile our interests, so that both parties to the conflict felt winners?

Ok, I give up...

IT'S YOUR STYLE, IF: you try to read thoughts of other people and to satisfy their wishes; usually you put the wishes and needs of your family or colleagues ahead over yours; it’s easy to influence you: you readily change opinion, especially in a conversation with someone who is important to you. As a result, you constantly have the feeling that your needs are ignored.

What can you do?

Accept the fact that sometimes it’s healthy to have a dispute. At home, at work, in a store, during the dinner with friends. Exercise this ability, at the beginning in trivial matters. Besides that learn to express your own opinion in the conflict in a constructive manner: do not interpret, but only describe the situation. Focus on what happens between the two of you now, and not on what it should be. "You seem to be upset because I didn’t support your plan at the meeting. Are you upset?", describe your feelings: "I think that I often refrain from speaking out such ideas, because I'm afraid that you would ignore them. And this very case is really important for me”. Express opinions in an open way and ask for the same thing: "Tell me, why do you think that we should implement your plan and not mine?".

We can come to an agreement

IT'S YOUR STYLE, IF: you have the impression that conflicts in which you engage bring improvements to the relationship, and not its deterioration; you are able to dedicate a lot of time in order to get an idea of what does your interlocutor really want; you want that the two of you: you and your opponent, were the winners of the dispute.


Cooperation is considered by negotiation experts the to be the most efficient style of behaviour in a conflict. A person oriented on cooperation often uses such phrases: "What did you mean by saying that ...", "I understand that you would like to ...", "I admit that I am in a very difficult position". That kind of person offers support, actively seeks new ways of getting out of the impasse.


In principle, this tactic is almost always good. Maybe except really extreme situations: you are mugged by a crook in a dark street, and then it is best to simply use the avoidance technique (run away as fast as possible). Because when solving disputes it is sometimes useful to show off your fangs and claws – and sometimes to have your tail between your legs and rescue yourself with an escape. It all depends on the circumstances.


Jagna Kaczanowska, psychologist

Published: Mon, 18/01/2016 - 15:22

Tweet Button: 

Info for young people in the western balkans

Need expert help or advice?

Ask us!