Five Major Styles of Conflict Management

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Refer to Kenneth Thomas’s Five Major Styles of Conflict Management.

1) What is your preferred style(s) of conflict management/resolution in the workplace?

2) How effective is/are your style(s) in resolving most everyday workplace conflicts?

Support your answer by providing 2 concrete examples of effectiveness.


DuBrin (2016) first discusses the communication skills used by effective leaders, including verbal, nonverbal, and written communications (p.381). He briefly discusses conflict resolution as performed by leaders.

Not surprisingly, the conventional wisdom that effective leaders are also effective communicators is generally true. To solicit information, and then convey information to followers and outsiders, leaders must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. However, despite the importance of effective communication, many leaders are not very effective. Improvements in information technology may help communications, although it can also increase information overload.

In terms of verbal communication, DuBrin (2016) outlines a series of rules of thumb for being effective and inspirational.

  • Be Credible
  • Use the “Persuade Package” of influence tactics: Ingratiation-Rationality-Assertiveness-Exchange
  • Gear your message to the listener
  • Sell group members on the benefits of your suggestions
  • Use “heavy-impact” and emotion-provoking words
  • Back up your conclusions with data or objective evidence
  • Minimize language errors, junk words, and vocalized pauses (this last factor is obviously only relevant to verbal communication)
  • Write crisp, clear memos and reports
  • Use a power-oriented linguistic style (p. 385)

In terms of nonverbal communication, there are also a variety of rules of thumb that are likely to convey power, control and forcefulness:

  • Use erect posture when walking, standing, or sitting
  • Exhibit dominant behavior, such as standing up straight during confrontation
  • Smile frequently, in a relaxed, natural-appearing manner
  • Gesturing in a relaxed way
  • Appropriate clothing, dress, and appearance
  • Use time and timing appropriately

The idea of “supportive communications” relates to the concepts of relationship-oriented leader behaviors. Obviously, a leader’s communication style must be congruent with the message of support and empathy. Supportive communication is a communication style that delivers the message accurately and supports or enhances the relationship between the two parties. DuBrin (2016) outlines several points regarding supportive communication:

  • Be problem-oriented, not person-oriented
  • Be descriptive, not evaluative
  • Congruence between the verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Communicate that the person is accepted and unique
  • Make specific, not global, comments
  • Make conjunctive, not disjunctive, comments
  • Take responsibility for what you say
  • Be an active listener

Communication Problems
There are many communication problems, but these are often aggravated by cross-cultural issues. Diversity and the continuing growth of truly global organizations create cross-cultural issues. Attributions are particularly critical in forming perceptions and opinions of other people, which in turn affects communication and may cause conflicts. Stereotypes are the result of attributions, and in the most negative form, they lead to prejudice and discrimination. Both nonverbal and verbal communications are subject to being misunderstood by people of different cultures. This issue may also be critical to leader-member exchange because unless leaders are sensitive to cross-cultural issues, they may inadvertently place people from other cultures in the out group or damage leader-member relationships.

Interdependencies among leaders and followers increase the likelihood of conflict. Leaders spend a fair amount of time dealing with subordinate or follower conflicts, as well as conflicts with peers and superiors. The most general model for conflict resolution has five different styles for managing conflict:

  • Competing or competitive
  • Accommodating or accommodative
  • Sharing (or sometimes called “compromising”)
  • Collaborating or collaborative (associated with “win-win” styles of conflict resolution)
  • Avoiding or avoidance

Resolution Styles
People may use more than one of the five resolution styles to resolve a conflict, especially if there are multiple issues in dispute. People also have preferred styles, and they should be aware that they will tend to overuse their preferred style. Instead, contemporary conflict resolution models are contingency approaches that assume there is no single best style. Rather, the most effective style varies according to a variety of factors, often including the person’s concern for the relationship and concern with attaining the concrete, substantive outcome being sought.

Distributive bargaining
Distributive bargaining is another name for “win-lose” or “zero-sum” bargaining. In essence, anything one party gains, the other party loses. Negotiating over money is typically distributive. On the other hand, integrative bargaining is often called “win-win” or collaborative bargaining. In this situation, both parties can attain their objectives. Obviously, this leads to more satisfied parties and better relationships. If the relationship is important, look for collaborative solutions, although they are not always possible.

Distributive negotiating or bargaining (they essentially mean the same thing) is sometimes called “positional” bargaining because the parties take positions that reflect their underlying interests. Parties negotiate over the positions, not the interests. On the other hand, integrative bargaining is sometimes called “interest” bargaining because the parties disclose their true interests and attempt to reach mutually desirable outcomes. They do not argue over positions that reflect those interests. In a sense, integrative bargaining is problem solving, and the creativity is critical to reaching a resolution.

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