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Conflict and confrontation, my absolute least favorite combination of things. I’ve always been the kind of person to deal with confrontation by not dealing with it. My brain seems to be under the impression that if I avoid an issue hard enough, that issue will simply cease to exist. Unfortunately, this is a silly belief and has never actually ended well for me. That being said, there are also disadvantages to being more aggressive and direct when it comes to confrontation.

I live with three other people, and every single one of us has extremely different styles of coping with issues that arise around us. I’ve always found it interesting that can even be the case. While many of us may share very similar problems, the way in which we process and attempt to resolve them can differ hugely. It got me thinking about how and why this is the case. While I tend to flinch away from any level of direct confrontation, one of my roommates almost seems to gravitate towards it, glaring at the problem on hand until it either submits or worsens substantially.

Why is it that we share a sense of humor, world views, moral standings and yet this specific thing is something in which we differ hugely? After a bit of research, I came across the Thomas Killmann Conflict Model Instrument (TKI), a model that includes five different conflict management styles. I recommend you skim through the options and try to figure out your own. I think that even from my brief descriptions of my feelings on conflict, the category I fit into is rather obvious.

Collaborating Style

While I was learning this information, it soon became clear to me that this style of dealing with conflict seemed to be the best. According to the TKI, acting on and processing conflict in this way has been shown to only be good for happiness in long term relationships but also the maintenance of it. Marriage is a prime example, and although I can’t see myself getting married soon/am slightly horrified by the idea, it’s reassuring that there are actual techniques and ways of dealing with conflict that have been shown to work. Collaboration allows both partners to feel as though their preferences have been considered without one person having to give/take more than the other. For the sake of myself and any potential future spouse, I’m definitely taking notes on this one.

Competing Style

Much like the style mentioned above, people who practice the competing style are also very assertive. However, while cooperation involves (you guessed it) cooperating and working with the other person, this style is more focused on getting your personal needs met and ignoring those around you. As horrible as this sounds, it doesn’t necessarily mean those who deal with conflict in this way are bad people. Rather, they just look out for themselves first and those who are around them second. When I first read this description, I thought it sounded both callous and rude. But the more I thought about it, the less it seemed to be the case. Competing style doesn’t equate to a lack of caring about the other person or the relationship between the two of you. Instead, it just means that the overall outcome of any tense situation may be temporarily viewed as more important than the relationship itself. 

Avoiding Style

Those who practice this style of conflict management tend to be unassertive and uncooperative. When I first read this, I nodded along with the author in agreement that this was a bad way of coping. From there, I got more and more displeased as I realized this was most definitely the category I best fit into. People who deal with conflict in this style are more likely to withdraw or completely disappear from an issue or uncomfortable situation rather than deal with it directly. This isn’t to say they completely ignore any problems that may arise. Instead, the mentality generally reflects a “postpone” lifestyle. This includes seeing an issue, realizing the conflict it may cause, and then making the active decision to put it off in the hopes that it will lessen the tension or stress. In my personal experience, doing so normally does the opposite but considering this doesn’t sound like an uncommon thing, at least I’m not alone. 

Accommodating Style

This style is the complete opposite of competing. Rather than stand up for your personal needs or wants, people like this will often sacrifice their wants to accommodate the other person. Initially, this might seem generous. However, being willing to work and adapt with another person, so you both end up happy, is very different from simply doing whatever will make the other person happy, no matter the self-sacrifice it may take. According to Walden News, this often results in resentment building up over time rather than any level of happiness between the two involved parties. This could be because the person accommodating could feel as if they are being taken advantage of, even if technically they chose to act in this way. This style of conflict is generally put into practice when you don’t care much/have strong feelings about the outcome but are invested in building the relationship. For example, going out to lunch with a friend and when they suggest Thai food, agreeing with a smile rather than express any honest opinions on how working in a Taiwanese restaurant has made you completely exhausted when thinking of eating pad thai. This may seem like a very specific example, and it makes me think that I also have elements of this conflict management style as well. 

Compromising Style

This style comes off a bit similar to that of cooperation. The main difference lies in that compromising focuses on finding an acceptable solution to the problem for both parties in a fast and reasonable time frame. Both people have the chance to be assertive but in a way that they are willing to discuss and figure it out. This is largely used for smaller decisions where the outcome wouldn’t be completely crucial but still matters to a certain extent. The element of time also comes into play in that both parties may end up with a compromise they wouldn’t have been as happy with if there wasn’t some level of time restraint. So, this style is most popularly used in everyday situations in order to get things done without causing actual discontent between two people to break out. Following our lunch-themed example from earlier, say that friend asked if you wanted to get Thai food, and for once, you answer with an honest no and that you’d prefer Indian food. However, that friend happens to work at an Indian restaurant, and they are sickened by the thought of it just as you are by the overly familiar smell of pad thai. Maybe you’re really craving Indian food, but using the compromising style, you both would accept a third and more pleasing option for the sake of time.  

Overall, taking part in any of these styles doesn’t make you a bad person. However, studies have shown that some are better than others in certain aspects. Unfortunately, reading this just made me realize that I don’t have very healthy coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with conflict. If nothing else, perhaps my writing of this article will serve as personal motivation to actually speak up for myself when it comes to others requesting we get Thai food, as apparently, it may just result in long term resentment and possible damage to the relationship. I feel this slight fear may serve as the perfect motivation for standing up for myself in the future. Maybe it could and should do the same for you. 

Emma Ostenfeld is currently a Junior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying psychology. She is interested in creative (or any other form) of writing and has joined Her Campus in order to improve her skills and experience in this field. Originally from NOVA, she loves everything about living in Richmond Except that she had to leave her three cats at home and misses them dearly. She loves her friends but is enough of an introvert that alone time is a necessity for the sake of her mental health and the sanity of those around her. She is an extreme foodie and always appreciates any restaurant recommendations.
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