Can Conflict Be Viewed as an Opportunity?

Can Conflict Be Viewed as an Opportunity? By Susan Ingram

{3:06 minutes to read}

I can just hear my readers muttering under their breath, “Oh no, there she goes again – talking about how wonderful conflict is.” In fact, several months ago I wrote a blog entitled “Can Conflict Be Good?” In that article, I spoke about productive versus unproductive conflict. For productive conflict to occur, typically there needs to be a degree of flexibility and an openness to understanding the needs of the other party(ies).

As you’ve certainly surmised, I do believe that conflict can be looked at as an opportunity – a way, if we allow ourselves, to better understand who we are and who the other person is. With this greater understanding, we can then frame solutions that are grounded, not in the black-and-white thinking of so many disputants, but in the real needs of the parties.

One way for us to gain insight into our conflict behaviors and those of others is to look at the various ways we approach and manage conflict. While there are a number of assessments that address this topic, one that I’ve found particularly helpful and easy to use is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). The TKI identifies 5 basic modes that people adopt when managing conflict. The words themselves are pretty much self-explanatory:

  • Competing
  • Compromising
  • Collaborating
  • Accommodating
  • Avoiding

The thing is, most people’s conflict style is heavily focused in only 1 or maybe 2 of the 5 modes. And a person’s “preferred” mode(s) will end up being the way he or she will always address conflict. As human nature goes, that’s understandable; we’re all creatures of habit.

But once we understand the different conflict styles and the pros and cons of each, we can begin to change our approach to conflict in a very meaningful way. Instead of overusing our preferred style, we can choose the best conflict mode at the time, based upon the specific circumstances and the people we’re dealing with.

That’s pretty powerful stuff! It does take our being willing to honestly look at ourselves as we assess our own conflict mode(s). It also requires that we open ourselves to appreciating and using (when appropriate) other modes for conflict. Both of which bring us back to the subject I started with – viewing conflict as an opportunity…to learn, grow, and gain greater understanding.

What is your mode for approaching and handling conflict? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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