Pondering Conflict Resolution

I have been struggling with a conflict avoider over the last few months. I simply cannot get this person to engage in meaningful conversation to move toward resolution. As a learning experience it has been somewhat fascinating but in the day to day it’s been fairly frustrating.

There are five major ways that people deal with conflicts that arise.

  1. Avoid – truly these folks just avoid the conflict at all costs.
  2. Accommodate – these folks give in to the demands of others. It’s fast but then they rarely get what they want.
  3. Compete – these are your typical "win-lose" folks. They must get what they want and you must not get what you want.
  4. Compromise – these folks meet in the middle with neither really getting what they want. So neither person wins but neither really loses either.
  5. Collaborate – these folks want to find a way for both parties to win and will work together until they do.

Depending on the situation, any of these can be very effective ways to resolve conflict. If you’re interested, you can determine your preferred method of dealing with conflict with this simple test (pdf). I’m generally a collaborator, but have certainly used each of these methods at different times.

But lately I’ve been at an impasse. There is a situation involving both money and credibility that I would like to see change. I have raised my concerns with the person who has the power to change the situation who merely says to me "I understand." Well, that is a mighty conversation stopper. In fact we have had the same exact conversation several times over the last few months. My concerns have been heard and allegedly understood. But there is no action to resolve the underlying issue. 

I am befuddled. Is it that the person merely does not care about my concerns? Or is the person simply avoiding a difficult conversation? How does one get an avoider to engage? Is it possible? Or is the appropriate response to avoid the avoider until something has changed?

3 comments on “Pondering Conflict Resolution
  1. RG says:

    Hmm, I was thinking as I read the beginning that I alternate between avoiding and competing. And when you raised the “how do you deal” – I think the way to deal with me when I’m in avoidal stage is to figure out what you can offer. The (extreme) analogy I was thinking of is a situation where someone wants to hit on me and I want someone to stop. Why am I not willing to “engage”? Because I don’t see the up-side to that. I tell myself 1. I know how that will end (I’ve dated that type) and 2. why waste the time? Guys who have as little obvious potential have figured out what I like to do, created a way to fit my activity in their life, and sometimes made it easier for me to fit into my life (by giving tickets or a ride). Of course at that point you still have to be able to say what’s in it for them; if you’ve been able to have the conversation but focussed on what you want, then are you also going into “compete” mode?

  2. Steve Smith says:

    Hi Cathy, You aren’t a mind reader so you can’t know what the other person is thinking. I don’t find conflict models much help in this kind of situation. I suggest making a concrete proposal that tells him what actions you want to take and how taking them will benefit the organization. I suggest sharing with him the cost to the organization or, better yet, to him, for not taking action. I suggest asking him for approval to begin proposed actions immediately. Many people underestimate the importance of asking for approval to take action. Please don’t be one of them. I have found including these suggestions in a conversation with decision makers opens an opportunity for either immediately proposal approval or collaboration on a different set of actions. Wishing you the conversation you seek, -Steve

  3. Cathy says:

    Thank you both for your comments and feedback.
    Steve, as always, I love your advice. I use your techniques for just about every new initiative I’d like to start…behold my plan that with your approval I am about to begin. So much better than asking for unframed advice or feedback.