What Are the 5 Conflict Management Styles & Which is Best?

Published: August 27, 2018 | Last Updated: April 23, 2024by Jeremy Pollack

When groups of personalities combine under pressure in the workplace, at home, or in the community, conflict can all-too-easily arise. You might be called upon to extinguish the fire before it spreads. Like a blaze, disputes can quickly grow to impact other areas of the organization, build a permanent wedge between family members, or start to impart negative consequences on innocent community members. If you have no experience managing this type of dispute or fear your own emotions may be too high, learning the best conflict management style can help. Here are the most common 5 conflict management styles and why the collaborative style rules them all.

1. Collaborate

A collaborative style is when you pair up with your opponent to find a common solution that can be considered a win/win. It’s common that when emotions flare up, problem-solving skills fall quickly by the wayside. Where people may have been able to use their creative minds before, they’re stuck protecting themselves in a state of defensiveness against the other person. In that state, anyone can quickly forget how to communicate effectively at work or with peers and family. It could take a strong, level-headed participant in the dispute or even a third party to step in at that point to diffuse some of that tension. The key is to help each party in the clash identify their specific needs so that a middle ground can be discovered. On this middle path, both parties may be able to work together, and even help each other, to get their needs met, which makes this the most ideal of the 5 conflict management styles.

2. Accommodate

If someone was teaching conflict resolution to you for help with your own relationship mediation, this might be a hard sell. An accommodating style is when one party of the conflict gives in to the requests of the other for the sake of peace. They may work against their own goals, desires, and needs in an effort to meet the other party where they’re at and let the flame sizzle out.

This is one of those theories of conflict management that can be useful as a long-term strategy – if one party hopes to do business with the other in the future, they may want to sacrifice a win this time around. But a sound strategy is needed here, a certain kind of finesse to ensure undiscovered resentment doesn’t escalate the conflict later on.

3. Compete

Of the 5 conflict management styles, the competitive approach is your classic win/lose strategy where one half of the dispute asserts their needs without effort to compromise or perhaps even acknowledge the other half’s goals. If the gain is short-term and you need to make quick, decisive action, this can be the right approach. Without the help of a skilled conflict resolution specialist, this strategy could simply escalate the conflict and cause long-lasting problems.

4. Avoid

With the avoidance style, you’re not giving into the conflict at all and are, in fact, actively avoiding it. You’re not meeting your opponent’s requests but you’re also not assertively seeking to have yours met, either. This is the smart tactic to use if emotions are out of scope and everyone needs a breather. Taking some space from the clash can be helpful if used for a short period of time. But if the conflict doesn’t resolve itself during the break, you’ll want to re-engage soon; otherwise, resentment will begin to emerge and the conflict may turn passive-aggressive until it’s resolved.

5. Compromise

Some people may call the compromising style a lose/lose scenario because both parties surrender parts of their goals during negotiation in an effort to move on. But if you’re the type to see the glass as half-full, you might see that both parties achieve parts of their goals, too. This is your classic “fair fighting rule” that our parents taught us as kids. They were teaching conflict resolution without us even realizing it. It’s a standard lesson in using effective communication skills. However, this approach might cause resentment in the long-term if someone begins to regret how much they sacrificed. Attempt to collaborate before you settle on a compromise.

The Best of the 5 Conflict Management Styles

As you can tell from above the 5 conflict management styles, the best approach tends to be collaborative. That’s because the strongest theories of conflict management note that an attempt for resolution should be seen as an opportunity for individual and collective growth; and that if the leader approaches the situation with that hope in mind, the outcome can be empowering for all. If you struggle to implement that optimism with your own team or community, and cannot find a way to lead a collaborative conflict management style, it’s reasonable to hire a conflict resolution specialist to help keep the peace.

Unfortunately, some disputes may require legal intervention. But very often, a skilled conflict resolution expert or mediator can help you keep the peace while saving you time, money, exposure, and potentially damaged relationships. It can be easy to think conflict has been resolved, but if underlying tension and resentment build quietly in the background because a proper solution wasn’t instilled, you could have long-term problems on your hands. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today for help with your conflict. We’re passionate about creating peace at home, at work, and in the world.

5 conflict management styles

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Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.