It’s been a beautiful spring in the Washington DC region. We’ve had the privilege of giving workshops on negotiation to scientists at the Society for Toxicology conference and to rising leaders at the 2012 Women’s Leadership Conference at George Washington University.
This month’s newsletter continues our series on conflict strategies.
When you face your adversary are you tempted to demolish, vanquish, or eliminate them or their concerns? Are these adjectives you use to characterize competition? A competitive style of managing conflict is generally characterized by aggressive and uncooperative behavior. A competitive style is very goal oriented. It pays little regard for the underlying relationship between the parties.
Our brain is wired to compete and cooperate. However, the competitive part of our brain uses more primitive defense mechanisms to keep us focused on winning. Those defenses include denial, interrogation, judgment, accusation, counterattack, justification, withdrawal, betrayal and sabotage. Perhaps you have experienced these responses in a competitive conflict situation. Now you know their origin.
Whether competition is the best tactic depends on the situation. In an emergency, or when unpopular decisions, such as budget cuts or disciplinary actions need to be taken, competition is an appropriate and efficient strategy. If a manager has tried to use consensus based processes without success, competition may be the only wise strategy. Finally, when you are totally convinced that your viewpoints are the correct ones for the organization, despite the resistance you might face, you need to use your powers of persuasion to argue your position and win.
Competition can generate creative ideas when others respond well to it or when one is in a situation which the best performance or ideas are awarded. Wilmot, William and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2011. Print. Competition is also helpful in situations where such behavior is the norm and a sign of strength, such as on the playing field or in the courtroom.
On the other hand, the disadvantages of competition as a strategy is that it promotes narrow solutions and a win lose result. It also may result in the sacrifice of the underlying relationship. It doesn’t allow for problem solving and creative solutions.
If competitive tactics are used in an aggressive manner with the goal of destroying the adversary, rather than destroying their options this can have destructive consequences. See our June 2011 article on Destructive Conflict Processes. Personal criticism, rejection, threats, hostility, blaming and denial of responsibility are examples of competitive tactics that can be destructive. Multiple competitive tactics are often used together. A threat has constructive or destructive consequences if the source of the threat controls the outcome and the recipient perceives it as negative. Threats to personal relationships often lie at the heart of many workplace conflicts. Broken relationships, humiliation, rage, helplessness, and desire for revenge are common effects of destructive and poorly managed conflict which can result from competitive tactics. Our primitive defense mechanisms are triggered in response to such tactics. The outcome from this clash probably won’t be a positive resolution of the issues in controversy.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.