Posted in Communication Skills, Teamwork

Five Ways to Approach Conflict

How do you approach conflict? Are you a shark? Are you a turtle? Are you a fox, teddy bear, or owl?

While de-cluttering my church office, I came across some materials I had prepared for a conflict resolution seminar. The seminar was designed to teach families healthy ways to communicate during conflict, but can easily be applied to leadership and team building.1

There are five ways to approach conflict.

The shark takes charge of the situation. He relies on his position of power and exercises his authority for quick action. Dialogue is limited or non-existent. “This is the way it will be. No questions asked.”

The turtle avoids conflict, often at a high price. He views conflict as negative rather than an opportunity to develop understanding. Even when he has a strong opinion on an issue or can offer valuable contributions, he will not speak up. “No matter what, don’t rock the boat.”

The fox looks for a compromise. He values relationships on the team and seeks to meet in the middle. He believes everyone must give up something; no one can be completely satisfied. “Let’s find a solution by splitting the difference.”

The teddy bear gives in and accepts the other position. After engaging in dialogue, he understands both sides and believes he was wrong, or he decides he cares more about the person than the issue. “It’s okay, have it your way.”

The owl engages in problem solving. He believes it is possible to work something out that satisfies both sides. He takes the time necessary to explore the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of involved parties. “Let’s find a win-win solution.”

Depending on the situation, some ways of approaching conflict are more productive than others. There are times when acting as the shark is appropriate, such as in the midst of an emergency when quick action needs to be taken. However, the shark is damaging in a culture where open dialogue is being developed. Imagine acting as the fox when compromise involves accepting an unethical position. Not a good approach. Imagine acting as a turtle when the viewpoint being withheld is crucial to avoiding a costly mistake. Once again, not a good approach. Generally speaking, approaches that value and invest in relationships promote stronger and healthier teams and environments.

…We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:25, NLT).

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18, NIV).

Which ways do you typically approach conflict? How can you more actively value and invest in your relationships?

1 Seminar adapted from “Ways to Approach Conflict,” by Anne Meyer Byler, 1995.

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