Too much drama…is that what conflict amounts to for you? When you are faced with a conflict, how do you typically respond? Does your response depend on the situation? There are three general categories of conflict communication responses (1): other-centered, self-centered, or relationship-centered.
Each of these possible responses has its own set of outcomes, typical behaviors, and messages. If you identify with one style or find that you are frequently in conflict with others and don’t understand why, it may require a shift in how you respond to conflict.
Focus on Others
In other-centered communication, the style is non-assertive and focuses on the other person’s wants or needs, not your own. Habitually non-assertive people may be excessively apologetic, indecisive, evasive, and may tend to avoid direct eye contact. This kind of behavior tends to send the message that conflict does not exist. Do you know people who are accommodators, always bowing to the other side’s interests?
Nonassertive communication has two forms: conflict avoidance and accommodation. With avoidance, the result is often a loss to both parties because one doesn’t get their needs addressed and the other may be unaware that there’s even a problem to begin with. Avoidance might feel like the easy path or the most reasonable solution, especially if you make statements to yourself such as “I don’t want to cause trouble” or “It’s not worth the fuss, I’ll just deal with it for now”. But in the long run, avoidance causes the negative feelings, resentment, and other problems to build up to the point that the conflict is far more difficult to resolve, or you remain trapped in a destructive conflict cycle that is hard to break with resulting misunderstandings.
Accommodation means that the conflict is suppressed and you allow the other’s needs to be met. Accommodation is a form of avoidance in that your needs are never met or expressed, and the conflict is not understood by the person being accommodated. This response is also a loss for both parties. The other person may think all is well and your relationship is great, whether personal or professional, while you stew in hurt feelings and unexpressed resentments.
Focus on Self
A self-centered response is characterized by domination and control by one person over another. A person who continually chooses this response pattern may appear to be argumentative or aggressive, controlling, and selfish.
Self-centered communication can be passive aggressive or aggressive. In the former, you’ll see behaviors such as backstabbing, sabotage, and manipulation. In aggressive communication, typical behaviors include intimidation, competition, bullying, and provocation. Aggressive communication can be verbal or physical, and is generally an unhealthy form of conflict.
Focusing on the self in a conflict sounds like a logical method to most people; after all, how can you ensure your needs are met if you aren’t focused on yourself? However, it’s how you focus on the self in a conflict that matters, and whether you’re not listening to the needs of the other person during the conflict.
By handling conflict in a domineering or controlling manner, in which the communication is centered entirely around your needs and wants and what you think, you will miss out on the other person’s thoughts and feelings and the conflict will have a resolution that suits only you and is thus not durable or sustainable.
Focus on Relationship
In this response, there is recognition of the needs of both parties in the conflict. It is characterized by assertive communication behavior. Assertive communication means the ability to speak up for one’s interests and needs in a way that does not infringe on the other’s rights.
This kind of communication is characterized by a willingness to listen, respect for different points of view, and open expression of desires and feelings. Actions such as direct eye contact, confidence, and competence are often evident. You’ll see people strive for mutual understanding.
In relationship-centered communication, the strategies are either compromise or collaboration, in which both parties have a say and come to a mutual agreement or understanding. With this kind of response, the relationship, whether personal or professional, is made a priority. You want to keep working well with a coworker, or stay friends with a long-time friend, or maintain a good relationship with your spouse or family member. It is highly improbable that you would have a positive, healthy relationship with self-centered or other-centered conflict responses.