10.2 Conflict Management Styles

Learning Objectives

  • Explain a tool used to mitigate conflict.
  • Identify five conflict management styles.
  • Describe the collaborative problem-solving approach to conflict resolution.

Would you describe yourself as someone who prefers to avoid conflict? Do you like to get your way? Are you good at working with someone to reach a mutually beneficial solution? Odds are that you have been in situations where you could answer yes to each of these questions, which underscores context’s critical role in conflict and conflict management styles. The way you view and deal with conflict is learned and contextual. Is how you handle conflicts similar to how your parents handle conflict? If you are of a certain age, you are likely predisposed to answer this question with a certain “No!” As a child, you likely tested out different conflict resolution styles observed in your families with your parents and siblings. Later, in adolescence, you begin developing platonic and romantic relationships outside the family; you may test what you have learned from your parents in other settings. If a child has observed and used negative conflict management styles with siblings or parents, they are likely to exhibit those behaviours with non–family members (Reese-Weber & Bartle-Haring, 1998).

Different conflict management styles are communication strategies that attempt to avoid, address, or resolve a conflict. Keep in mind that you do not always consciously choose a style. You may instead be caught up in emotion and become reactionary. Strategies for managing conflict more effectively may allow you to slow down the reaction process, become more aware, and intervene to improve your communication. A powerful tool to mitigate conflict is information exchange. Asking for more information before you react to a conflict-triggering event is an excellent way to add a buffer between the trigger and your reaction. Another critical element is whether or not a communicator is oriented toward self-centred or other-centred goals. For example, if your goal is to “win” or make the other person “lose,” you show a high concern for yourself and a low concern for others. If you aim to facilitate a “win/win” resolution or outcome, you show great concern for yourself and others.

In general, strategies that facilitate information exchange and include concern for mutual goals will be more successful at managing conflict (Sillars, 1980). This section will discuss the five strategies for managing conflict. Each of these conflict styles accounts for the concern placed on ourselves versus others.

Conflict Management Styles

To better understand the elements of the five conflict management styles, you will apply each to the following scenario. Rosa and D’Shaun have been partners for 17 years. Rosa is growing frustrated because D’Shaun continues to give money to their teenage daughter, Casey.  There have been times when Rosa and D’Shaun have stated, “it is okay this time,”  even though they decided to keep the teen on a fixed allowance to teach her more responsibility. Rosa has considered threatening to take D’Shaun’s ATM card away if he continues giving Casey money. While conflicts regarding money and child-rearing are prevalent, you will see how Rosa and D’Shaun could address this problem.  As they discuss the issue, Rosa uses a sarcastic tone of voice  and subsequent eye roll when telling D’Shaun, “You are so good with money!”  Rosa also leaves the bank statement on the kitchen table in hopes that D’Shaun will realize how much extra money is being given to Casey.


The competing style indicates a high concern for self and a low concern for others. When you compete, you strive to “win” the conflict, potentially at the expense or “loss” of the other person. You may gauge our win by being granted or taking concessions from the other person. For example, if D’Shaun gives Casey extra money behind Rosa’s back, he is taking an indirect competitive route resulting in a “win” for him because he got his way. The competing style also involves using power, which can be noncoercive or coercive (Sillars, 1980). Noncoercive strategies include requesting and persuading. When requesting, you suggest the conflict partner change a behaviour. Requesting does not require a high level of information exchange. When you persuade, however, you give your conflict partner reasons to support our request or suggestion, meaning there is more information exchange, which may make persuading more effective than requesting.

Rosa could persuade D’Shaun to stop giving Casey extra allowance by bringing up their fixed budget or reminding him they are saving for a summer vacation. Coercive strategies violate standard guidelines for ethical communication. They may include aggressive communication directed at stirring your partner’s emotions through insults, profanity, yelling, or threats of punishment if you do not get your way. If Rosa is the primary income earner in the family, she could use that power to threaten to take D’Shaun’s ATM card away if he continues giving Casey money.

In all these scenarios, the “win” that could result is only short-term and can lead to conflict escalation. Interpersonal conflict is rarely isolated, meaning ripple effects can connect the current conflict to previous and future conflicts. D’Shaun’s behind-the-scenes money-giving or Rosa’s confiscation of the ATM card could lead to negative emotions that could further test their relationship. Competing has been linked to aggression, although the two are not always paired.

If assertiveness does not work, there is a chance it could escalate to hostility. There is a pattern of verbal escalation: requests, demands, complaints, angry statements, threats, harassment, and verbal abuse. Aggressive communication can become patterned, creating a volatile and hostile environment.

Living in this volatile environment would create stressors in any relationship, so it is essential to monitor competition as a conflict resolution strategy to ensure it does not lapse into aggression. The competing conflict management style is not the same as having a competitive personality. Competition in relationships is not always negative, and people who enjoy engaging in competition may not always do so at the expense of another person’s goals. Research has shown that some couples engage in competitive shared activities like sports or games to maintain and enrich their relationship (Dindia & Baxter, 1987). And although you may think that competitiveness is gendered, research has often shown that women are just as competitive as men.


The avoiding style of conflict management often indicates a low concern for self and a low concern for others, and no overt or direct communication about the conflict takes place. However, in some cultures that emphasize group harmony over individual interests (including some in North America), avoiding a conflict can indicate a high concern for the other. Remember, you can not avoid communication — even when you try to avoid conflict, you may intentionally or unintentionally give away your feelings through verbal and nonverbal communication. Rosa’s sarcastic tone when telling D’Shaun, “You are so good with money!” and subsequent eye roll bring the conflict to the surface without specifically addressing it. The avoiding style is either passive or indirect, which may make this style less effective than others.

You may decide to avoid conflict for many reasons, some of which are better than others. If you view the conflict as unimportant, it may be better to ignore it. If the person with whom you are in conflict will only be in contact with you for a week, you may perceive a conflict as temporary and choose to avoid it, hoping it will solve itself. If you are not emotionally invested in the conflict, you may be able to reframe your perspective and see the situation differently, resolving the issue. In all these cases, avoiding does not require an investment of time, emotion, or communication skills, so there is not much at stake to lose. However, it may be easy to tolerate a problem when you are not personally invested in it or view it as temporary. When faced with a situation like Rosa’s and D’Shaun’s, avoidance may worsen the problem. For example, avoidance could manifest as changing the subject and progressing from avoiding the issue to avoiding the person altogether to ending the relationship.

Indirect strategies of hinting and joking also fall under the avoiding style. When you hint, you drop clues that you hope your partner will find and piece together to see the problem and hopefully change, thereby solving the problem without direct communication. However, the person dropping the hints often overestimates their partner’s detective abilities. For example, when Rosa leaves the bank statement on the kitchen table in hopes that D’Shaun will realize how much extra money is being given to Casey, D’Shaun may simply ignore it. You also overestimate our partner’s ability to decode the jokes youmake about a conflict situation. It is more likely the receiver of the jokes will think you are genuinely trying to be funny or feel provoked or insulted than realize the conflict situation you are referencing. More frustration may develop when the hints and jokes are not accurately decoded, often leading to a more extreme form of hinting/joking: passive-aggressive behaviour.

Passive-aggressive behaviour deals with conflict in which one person indirectly communicates negative thoughts or feelings through nonverbal behaviours, such as not completing a task. For example, Rosa may wait a few days to deposit money into the bank so D’Shaun can not withdraw it to give to Casey. Although passive-aggressive behaviour can feel rewarding at the moment, it is one of the most unproductive ways to deal with conflict. However, as noted above, avoidance can be appropriate in some situations — for example, when the conflict is temporary, when the stakes are low, when there is little personal investment, or when there is the potential for violence or retaliation.


The accommodating conflict management style indicates a low concern for self and a high concern for others. It is often viewed as passive or submissive when someone complies with or obliges another. Accommodating entails doing what the other wants, whereas avoiding is doing nothing. It should be noted that sometimes avoiding often leads to accommodating indirectly, as not addressing a problem or voicing your opinion can lead others to perceive that you are okay with doing things their way.

The context for and motivation behind accommodating play an essential role in whether or not it is an appropriate approach. Generally, you accommodate because you are being generous, obeying, and yielding (Bobot, 2010). If you are being generous, you accommodate because you genuinely want to. If you obey, you do not have a choice but to accommodate (perhaps due to the potential for negative consequences or punishment). If you yield, you may have your own views or goals but give up due to fatigue, time constraints, or a better solution has been offered.

Accommodating can be appropriate when there is little chance that our own goals can be achieved, when you do not have much to lose by accommodating, when you feel you are wrong, or when advocating for your own needs could negatively affect the relationship (Isenhart & Spangle, 2000). The occasional accommodation can be useful in maintaining a relationship. For example, Rosa may say, “It is okay that you gave Casey some extra money; she did have to spend more on gas this week since the prices went up.”

However, being a team player can slip into being a pushover, which people generally do not appreciate. If Rosa keeps telling D’Shaun, “It is okay this time,” they may find themselves short on spending money at the end of the month. At that point, Rosa and D’Shaun’s conflict may escalate as they question each other’s motives, or the conflict may spread if they direct their frustration at Casey and blame it on her irresponsibility. The accommodating style is more likely to occur when there are time restraints and less likely to occur when someone does not want to appear weak (Cai & Fink, 2002). If you are standing outside the movie theatre and two movies are starting, you may say, “Let’s just have it your way,” so you do not miss the beginning of the movie. If you are a new manager at an electronics store and an employee wants to take Sunday off to watch a football game, you may say no to set an example for the other employees.


The compromising style shows a moderate concern for self and others. Even though you may often hear that the best way to handle a conflict is to compromise, the compromising style is not a win/win solution but a partial win/lose. When you compromise, you give up some or most of what you want. The conflict gets resolved temporarily, but lingering thoughts of what you gave up could lead to a future conflict. Compromising may be a good strategy when time limitations or conflict prolonging may lead to relationship deterioration. Compromise may also be good when both parties have equal power or other resolution strategies have not worked (Macintosh & Stevens, 2008). Compromising may help conflicting parties come to a resolution, but neither may be completely satisfied if they each had to give something up.

People often get accommodating and compromising confused. Accommodating means sacrificing your needs/wants/desires for what the other wants without them giving anything in return. When you compromise, both parties give something and gain something.

A negative of compromising is that it may be used as an easy way out of a conflict. The compromising style is most effective when both parties find the solution reasonably agreeable. Rosa and D’Shaun could decide that Casey’s allowance does need to be increased and could each give her $10.00 more a week by committing to taking their lunch to work twice a week instead of eating out. They are giving up something, and if neither has a problem taking their lunch to work, the compromise is equitable. If the couple agrees that the 20 extra dollars a week should come out of D’Shaun’s golf budget, the compromise is not as equitable, and D’Shaun, although he agreed to the compromise, may end up with feelings of resentment. Dialogue may assist this couple to find a win-win outcome.


The collaborating style involves a high degree of concern for self and others and usually indicates investment in the conflict situation and the relationship. Although the collaborating style takes the most work regarding communication competence, it ultimately leads to a win/win situation in which neither party has to make concessions because a mutually beneficial solution is discovered or created. The obvious advantage is that both parties are satisfied, which could lead to positive problem-solving in the future and strengthen the overall relationship. For example, Rosa and D’Shaun may agree that Casey’s allowance needs to be increased and may decide to give her 20 more dollars a week in exchange for her babysitting her little brother one night a week. In this case, they would not make the conflict personal but focus on the situation and devise a solution that may save them money. The disadvantage is that this style is often time-consuming, and only one person may be willing to use this approach while the other person is eager to compete to meet their goals or is unwilling to accommodate.

Here are some tips for collaborating and achieving a win/win outcome (Hargie, 2011):

    • Avoid viewing the conflict as a contest you are trying to win.
    • Remain flexible and realize there are solutions yet to be discovered.
    • Separate between the person and the problem (do not make it personal).
    • Determine the underlying needs driving the other person’s demands.
    • Identify areas of common ground or shared interests that you can work from to develop solutions.
    • Ask questions to allow them to clarify and to help you understand their perspective.


When conflict is severe enough that it causes a rift within the workplace culture, the kind that pollutes the work atmosphere and threatens irreparable damage, a methodical, collaborative approach to conflict resolution can help lead to an amicable solution. Watch the following video for strategies to effectively manage interpersonal conflict.

Watch: How to Deal With Conflict

When trying to collaborate on solving a conflict, it is helpful to use the following five-step problem-solving sequence:

  1. Identify the problem(s).
  2. Analyze the problem(s), the causes, and the symptoms. In other words, how did the problem arise, and why are you having this conflict?
  3. Identify the goals and needs of each person in the conflict. In other words, what does each person want?
  4. Identify solutions that might solve the problem and meet the goals and needs of the conflict participants. Be creative and think outside the box if necessary.
  5. Evaluate the solutions that were identified. When evaluating the solutions, consider the following: Will it solve the problem? Will it satisfy the goals and needs of the conflict participants? What are some potential issues that might arise when the choice is implemented?

Key Takeaways

  • Conflict management styles include accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing and compromising.
  • People tend to have a dominant style.
  • A tool to mitigate conflict is information exchange.
  • Collaborative problem-solving includes five steps: Identify the problem, analyze the problem, identify goals, and identify and evaluate solutions that meet the needs of each individual.


  1. Of the five conflict management strategies, is there one you use more often than others? Why or why not? Do you think people are predisposed to one style over the others based on their personality or other characteristics? If so, what personality traits would lead a person to each style?
  2. Describe a situation you recall where you came into conflict with someone else. It may be something that happened years ago or a current issue that just arose. Using the principles and strategies in this section, describe how the conflict was resolved or could have been resolved.


Media Attribution

LitmosHeroes. (2014). How to deal with conflict [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLbGHQo4qnA


Bobot, L. (2010). Conflict management in buyer-seller relationships. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 27(3), 291–319. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1002/crq.260

Dindia, K., & Baxter, L. A. (1987). Strategies for maintaining and repairing marital relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4(2), 143–158.

Cai, D. A. & Fink, E. L. (2002). Conflict style differences between individualists and collectivists. Communication Monographs, 69(1), 67–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637750216536

Hargie, O. (2011). Skilled interpersonal interaction: Research, theory, and practice (5th ed.) Routledge.

Isenhart, M. W., & Spangle, M. (2000). Collaborative approaches to resolving conflict. SAGE.

Macintosh, G., & Stevens, C. (2008). Personality, motives, and conflict strategies in everyday service encounters. International Journal of Conflict Management, 19(2), 112–131. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/10444060810856067

Reese-Weber, M., & Bartle-Haring, S. (1998). Conflict resolution styles in family subsystems and adolescent romantic relationships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27(6), 735–752.

Sillars, A. L. (1980). Attributions and communication in roommate conflicts.  Communication Monographs, 47(3), 180–200. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637758009376031

Attribution Statement

Content adapted, with editorial changes, from:​

Gerber, P. J., & Murphy, H. (n.d.). I.C.A.T. Interpersonal communication abridged textbook. Libre Texts. [Licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0].

Smith, J. (n.d.). Communication at work [Adapted]. Kwantlen University. https://kpu.pressbooks.pub/communicationsatwork

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Professional Communication Skills for Health Studies Copyright © 2023 by Chute, A., Johnston, S., & Pawliuk, B. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book