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close this bookCommunity Participation in Problem-Solving: Managing Conflict (UN Habitat - United Nations Centre for Human Settlements )
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGuidelines for the trainer
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentA statement of principles
View the document1. The sources of conflict
View the documentII. Styles of conflict-management
View the documentIII. Choosing a style
View the documentIV. Practising assertiveness and co-operation
View the documentV. Exercises in handling conflict
View the documentBibliography

II. Styles of conflict-management

Driving forces

The experience of the preceding two games should have helped us to identify two crucial factors - two driving forces - which will determine how conflict situations are played out:

ASSERTIVENESS: the extent to which we attempt to satisfy our own concerns; and

COOPERATION: the extent to which we attempt to satisfy the concerns of others.

There are a number of ways or "styles" in which individuals or groups manage conflict, but each style can be understood as a combination or, rather, interplay of these two driving factors.

No one style will be right for all occasions. However, before we go on to discuss the appropriate-nesses of each style, perhaps it would be best to identify the range of available styles, by reflecting again on your own approaches to conflict resolution.

TASK 4 Discover your own conflict-management style

This questionnaire is designed to help you identify your preferred style of conflict resolution

Choose from 30 pairs of statements the one in each case which best fits your preferred style in handling differences between yourself and others:

1.

1. I usually stick to the pursuit of my goals.
2. I like to make clear all my concerns and views from the outset.

2.

1. I put all my cards on the table and encourage the other person to do the same.
2. When conflicts arise I do my best to win.

3.

1. Once I take up a position I defend it fiercely.
2. Rather than argue, I prefer to look for the best solution possible.

4.

1. I sometimes give in to the wishes of the other person.
2. I think that differences are not always worth worrying about.

5.

1. I would rather accept the views of others than rock the boat.
2. I avoid people with strong opinions.

6.

1. I like to co-operate with others.
2. I feel that most things are not worth arguing about: I stick to my own views.

7.

1. I try to find some compromise solution.
2. I usually stick to the pursuit of my goals.

8.

1. When conflicts arise, I try to win.
2. I look for the middle ground.

9.

1. I like to meet the other person half-way.
2. Once I take up a position, I defend it fiercely.

10.

1. I feel that differences are not always worth worrying about.
2. I try to find a compromise solution.

11.

1. I look for the middle ground.
2. I avoid people with strong views.

12.

1. I feel that most things are not worth arguing about. I stick to my own views.
2. I like to meet the other person half-way.

13.

1. I usually stick to the pursuit of my goals.
2. I sometimes give in to the wishes of the other person.

14.

1. I would rather accept the views of others than rock the boat.
2. When conflicts arise, I try to win.

15.

1. Once I take up a position, I defend it fiercely.
2. I like to co-operate with others.

16.

1. I try to find a compromise solution.
2. I sometimes give in to the wishes of the other person.

17.

1. I would rather accept the views of others than rock the boat.
2. I look for the middle ground.

18.

1. I like to meet the other person half-way.
2. I like to co-operate with others.

19.

1. I feel that differences are not always worth worrying about.
2. I stick to the pursuit of my goals.

20.

1. When conflicts arise, I try to win.
2. I avoid people with strong opinions.

21.

1. I feel that most things are not worth arguing about. I stick to my own views.
2. Once I take up a position, I defend it fiercely.

22.

1. I like to make clear all my concerns and issues from the outset.
2. I feel that differences are not always worth worrying about.

23.

1. I avoid people with strong opinions.
2. I put my cards on the table and encourage the other person to do the same.

24.

1. Rather than argue, I prefer to look for the best solution possible.
2. I feel that most things are not worth arguing about. I stick to my own views.

25.

1. I like to make clear all my concerns and issues from the outset.
2. I try to find a compromise solution.

26.

1. I put my cards on the table and encourage the other person to do the same.
2. I look for the middle ground.

27.

1. Rather than argue, I prefer to look for the best solution possible.
2. I like to meet the other person half-way.

28.

1. I sometimes give in to the wishes of the other person.
2. 1 like to make clear all my concerns and issues from the outset.

29.

1. I put my cards on the table and encourage the other person to do the same.
2. I would rather accept the views of others than rock the boat.

30.

1. I like to co-operate with others.
2. Rather than argue, I prefer to look for the best possible solution.

Scoring

The questionnaire consists of statements related to each of five different conflict resolution styles. Each statement is paired in comparison with one statement from each of the other four styles.

The score sheet on the next page below shows you how to work out your score.

A, B. C, D and E represent the five conflict-resolving styles:

A - AVOIDING
B - ACCOMMODATING
C - COMPROMISING
D - COMPETING
E - COLLABORATING

So, for instance, if you chose the second statement of the first pair then you would score 1 for E. If you chose the first statement of the second pair, you would score another 1 for E, and so on.

The maximum score for any mode is 12.

The total aggregate score is 30.

A score of more than 6 on any mode indicates a preference for that mode.

However this is a one-shot, one-point-in-time indicator of your response to conflict and therefore it does not in itself have any definite validity.

Nevertheless, you might like to take the self-exploration further, by reflecting on how you usually react in conflict- situations - and see if your memory of recent significant encounters bears out the result you have just come up with. However, the main purpose of the questionnaire was to introduce the notion of five distinct styles and to give you a clear idea of their different natures.


SCORE SHEET

Conflict- resolution styles

The five styles identified in the questionnaire are arrived at from a balancing out of the two basic forces or dimensions of conflict situations. In any conflict between two individuals or two groups, the way resolution is sought will depend on:

ASSERTIVENESS - how assertive or unassertive each party is in pursuing its goals; or

CO-OPERATION - how co-operative or uncooperative each party is in pursuing the goals of the other.

The two dimensions define a model of conflict-resolution which gives us a usable framework for describing various conflict- management behaviours and for assessing their relative strengths and weaknesses.


Figure

The competing style

Competition The competitive style is both assertive and unco-operative. To compete is to try to meet one's own needs and concerns at the expense of the other party. To achieve this desired outcome, a competitor will use whatever power is available or acceptable - all the sources of power discussed in the previous manual:

Status: Using position or rank and exercising whatever authority has been given, to achieve the goal by legitimate means - within the rules.

Punishing: Using whatever sanctions are available or, even, physical force.

Rewarding: Distributing gifts, whether monetary or otherwise, to "buy" support.

Personality: Relying on one's popularity to gain acceptance of one's own ideas and wishes.

Informing: Trading on established experience and special knowledge to give weight to one's own policies;

Using, sometimes manipulating, any particularly relevant items d knowledge to further one's own position.

The statements from the questionnaire which characterize this style are:

"I usually stick to the pursuit of my goals", and

"When conflicts arise, I try to win".

So, the competitive style is a power-oriented style. People using it try to gain power through direct confrontation or through manipulation. No attempt is made to adjust to the other party's goals or concerns.

Sometimes, if the stakes are high enough, the only restraint on a person's or group's use of power is some external force such as the law or strong social customs. In some contexts industrial relations or civil rights, for Instance some people argue for a competitive style In all conflict-situations. Others say that such a style should always be condemned, because it inevitably fosters a win/lose outcome.

However, a competitive style is not in itself necessarily "bad". It all depends on the circumstances. In situations where life Is threatened, there might be a need for the quick and decisive action of a power-oriented competitive style. Sometimes, it might be necessary to compete just in order to protect oneself from those who are ready to take advantage of those who do not compete. Also, it is possible to compete without hurting the other person or destroying a relationship. In group exercises like "brainstorming", for instance, a competitive element is used constructively to generate creative ideas.

Strengths A competitive strategy might, then, be appropriate when:

- Quick, decisive action is vital;
- An unpopular action needs to be taken;
- There is no doubt about what is the right course of action;
- Defensive measures are urgently required.

Illustration

After years of surveying and negotiating, an expectation has been created that a certain squatter settlement will be upgraded and a "sites-and-services" scheme established for those residents who will be displaced by the improvement project. Then a sudden announcement is made by an official of the city authority that the settlement Is to be demolished to make way for a new inter- city highway. In this case, a speedy, competitive action might well be necessary - a strong representation to the authorities which counters the announced move with the established case for upgrading. A reluctance to use a competitive style can actually lead to a group or a project not tapping all available resources within its midst. It can also confirm a group in vulnerability, when external forces are totally uncompromising or uncollaborative.

Risks

If opportunities for compromise or collaboration exist, competition can result in lost opportunities, if it degenerates to what amounts to stubborn opposition. People tend to give up arguing with stubborn competitors.

The accommodating style

Accommodation

At the opposite pole from competition is accommodation - unassertive and cooperative behaviour. Accommodation means putting the other party's needs above one's own even if one has very strong needs and concerns related to the situation that has produced the conflict.

The representative statements from the questionnaire are:

"I sometimes give in to the wishes of the other person", and

"I would rather accept the views of others than rock the boat".

Strengths

Accommodation is an appropriate strategy to use when:

- One party is not as concerned as the other;
- One party is clearly "in the wrong";
- Preserving harmony is the most important consideration;
- Gaining goodwill and credit is the most important consideration;
- There are opportunities for learning from the other party.

Illustration

The residents of a squatter settlement have entered into an agreement with the city authority to provide the labour for a road-widening scheme which is to be funded by the authority. However, at the stage when materials and transport have been provided, nothing has been done to organize the voluntary labour and the residents' committee makes a bid to the authority for it to undertake the work. In this case, when challenged by officials of the authority and reminded of the agreement, the appropriate action by the residents' committee would be accommodation - withdrawing their bid and organizing the labour.

Risks

The overuse or inappropriate use of this style can lead to:

- A reduced influence, respect and recognition, inasmuch as the accommodator will be expected always to "give in";

- People, either external agents or subordinate project staff, begin to take advantage of perceived weaknesses.

The avoiding style

Avoidance

This style is characterized by unassertive and un-cooperative behaviour by both parties. Those who use it simply do not address the conflict, acting as if indifferent to others needs and concerns. It is a matter of evading the issue, withdrawing from the discussion or not bothering to press for a resolution - apart from what time itself might bring.

In the questionnaire, the style is represented by the statements:

"I feel that differences are not always worth worrying about', and

"I feel that most things are not worth arguing about. I stick to my own views".

Illustration

A project officer requested a subordinate colleague to submit invoices, to substantiate claims that had been made for expenses relating to a training course that had taken place two months previously. The colleague promised to send them but, despite repeated requests, failed to do so. In tact, he had either lost them or never had them and, rather than admit his fault, he kept hoping the matter would be forgotten. The project officer suspected this but declined to challenge his colleague openly and merely covered himself by sending the occasional reminding memo.

Strengths

Avoidance can sometimes be employed effectively as an interim strategy:

- If discussion becomes overheated, it might be advisable to allow a "cooling-off" period;
- On occasions when a conflict-situation should be avoided to allow time for information to be gathered or for a close analysis to be made;
- If the issue is relatively unimportant;
- When there is not enough time to come to a resolution;
- If the issue is identified as only a symptom of a substantial and extensive problem that should be dealt with later.

The only case for total avoidance might be a situation where it is clear that others are far more competent at resolving the issue.

Risks

An inappropriate use of avoidance procedures can lead to:

- Communication breakdowns, as people who are themselves "left in the dark" stop taking initiatives;

- Reduced effectiveness, as decisions are made by default;

- Conflicts persisting and then flaring up dramatically at a later stage.

The collaborating style

Collaboration

This style involves the maximum use of both assertiveness and cooperativeness. A high assertiveness aimed at reaching one's goal is balanced with a high concern for the needs of the other person. In fact, those using a collaborative style seek to satisfy the needs of both parties.

The representative statements from the questionnaire are:

"I put my cards on the table and encourage the other person to do the same", and

"Rather than argue I prefer to look for the best solution possible".

Illustration

A city authority was concerned about the unsightliness, the unhealthiness and the vandalism associated with a particular inner-city slum. Some youngsters from the area just wanted a clean, dignified place to live. They negotiated a project with the authority, whereby they themselves took on the renovation of properties and the authority provided the cost of the materials.

Strengths

Collaboration is the best way to develop consensus solutions to problems and a consequent commitment to the agreed solutions. Neither side feels it has lost out. In fact, this has been called the "win/win" strategy.

It is most appropriately used when:

- The needs and concerns of the parties are sufficiently important to warrant the time and energy it takes to collaborate effectively;

- It is essential that both parties be committed to the solution;

- One desired outcome Is the growth in confidence and skill in one or both parties that comes from engaging in the rigorous processes of collaboration.

Risks

Since this is the most time-consuming and energy- consuming style of all:

- Certain relatively unimportant matters might get too much attention;

- Cumbersome procedures might get established, which lead to frustrating delays in taking urgent action.

The compromising style

Compromise

Compromise is an intermediate strategy - in a midway position between competition and collaboration, avoidance and accommodation. The approach is to find an acceptable solution to a conflict that partly satisfies both parties.

Therefore, moderate amounts of assertiveness and co-operation are required to effect a compromise.

The style is characterized by the well-known phrase "splitting the difference", and the representative statements from the questionnaire are:

"I look for the middle ground", and

"I like to meet the other person half-way".

Illustration

The planning for a road-improvement scheme became log-jammed when the city authorities were insisting on minimum standards as expressed in the municipal bye-laws which would have resulted in project costs well above the community's ability to pay. Finally, the authority accepted a compromise solution recommended by the project staff that the house-access roads should at least be wide enough for a stretcher to be carried during funerals and that each plot should be within 50 m of a main road where a fire brigade vehicle could pass - the length of a fire hose being 50 m.

The result of compromise is that more aggregate needs are met than would be met through competition, yet fewer than would be met by collaboration. More issues are confronted than would be confronted by avoidance, yet less thoroughly confronted than they would be by collaboration. Though the compromise solution is mutually acceptable, it only partly satisfies each party's needs or wants.

Strengths

Compromise solutions are often appropriate and effective when:

- Temporary solutions are sought for complex issues or when the time for decision-making is short;

- When the goals of both parties are fairly important but not worth the effort needed for collaboration;

- When the parties are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals, and there is little chance that one party will gain an advantage over the other.

Risks If compromises are made too readily or casually:

- The value of an enterprise might be belittled;
- Important principles might be disregarded;
- The trust and commitment of colleagues might be undermined.