Conflict- and negotiation styles
How do you react, when you are in a situation that you perceive as conflictive or where you are a part of an abrasive negotiation? This could for example be situations where you experience to be pressurized to make a decision or where you are on your way to a steering committee meeting to negotiate about the future of your project. Do you tend to act as an automatic pilot?
Do you react by the motto that an attack is the best defense, do you retreat, or do you seek to light the case from all angles to find a common solution? Whatever your strategy is, an inspection can make you learn about yourself and your natural reaction pattern and how you can change this, if necessary. The different reaction patterns – also called conflict- and negotiation styles – have their own value, but the yield is dependent on the situation. When you know how you affect others and at the same time are aware of which style (or mixture of styles), that works best in the situation, you create breeding ground for sustainable solutions and strengthens your position as a project manager.
In the following will be scrutinized five concrete behavior patterns (typologies) that can come into play in touch with conflicts or negotiations. The tool is based on Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). For the sake of clarity, the term ‘negotiation styles’ will be utilized throughout the rest of this article.
The five styles
Our reaction patterns in negotiations and conflicts are two sides of the same coin. In both situations it is about fulfilling our needs. You can measure a person’s conflict- and negotiation style on the basis of two dimensions. The first one is the willingness to get your own interests and needs fulfilled. The other one is the willingness in cooperating and fulfilling other’s interests and needs.
On the basis of the two dimensions, five different conflict- and negotiation styles will occur. (See figure 1). None of us were able to be characterized by the usage of only one style, but most of us will have a clear sense of which style we most often utilize. As a person you will typically have a preferred style and at the same time have preferences for additionally one.
Here follows a run-through of the five styles.
-In my way
Persons with tendency to a competitive style stand firm and are set to be forcing own wishes and demands through – notwithstanding it happens on the cost of other’s interests and needs. This style can for example be useful, when there is a need for fast negotiation, when important and unpopular decisions have to be made, or when you have a need to clearly show your position. The disadvantage is that important relations risk to be lost, that the target can become to win just to win – and that you thereby lose eyes for what objectively gins the project in the best way. The style prefers that others avoid or fit to it.
-Let us make a solution together
Persons with this style invest in possibilities and seek the cooperation with the opponent in order to find a common solution that meets the needs, demands and interests of both parties. This style is useful, when you want the parties to take ownership of the solution, when the solution has long-term consequences and you at the same time want to support teamwork and a sustainable solution. This is therefore often referred to as the parties seek a “win-win”-solution. The disadvantage can be that it is a time-consuming process and it can be hard to use, when there already are some or unforeseen contrasts occur. The style prefers that others solves problems and do not compromise.
-I budge a little, if you do the same
Persons with this style seek to find a solution through the compromise – if everyone gives up something, we can all concurrently keep something. The parties stand still in their positions and try to find a middle course to unite different demands, needs and interests. The lowest denominator often becomes the target. The style can for example be useful in classic negotiations, when there is a need of useful solutions under time pressure or when the possibility for innovation is not present. Disadvantages are for example the risk for losing the big overview, that the solution holds briefly, that both parties feel they lose the negotiation, and that you miss the development of new solutions. The style prefers that others seek compromise or fit into it.
-Conflict – what is a conflict?
Persons with this style are willing to withdraw or try to avoid the problem. To avoid a conflict or confrontation becomes the target. They seek to avoid hurting other people.
The style can be useful when it contributes that tensions are reduced, that others can solve the case better or when the right timing means that the negotiation has a better chance to succeed later on. The disadvantage is that misunderstandings and conflicts can grow bigger or that missing responsibility can damage relations, and that you do not take action. The style prefers that others avoid.
-Everything you say is fine with me
The style is the opposite of the competitive style. The target is the build-up of goodwill. Persons with this style seek to sustain a mutual atmosphere of peace and tolerance. This in a degree that you compromise on your own needs and interests to oblige others. The style can be useful when you want to build up goodwill or that the case is more important for the other part than for oneself/one’s own project. The disadvantage is that you minimize your influence and risk to compromise with own values and integrity. The style prefers that others control.
The knowledge of The Five Styles expands your bandwidth of options for actions and makes it more simple to prevent conflicts or stand strong in a given negotiation situation.
Each of the five styles has its strength and disadvantage and thus a very different effect depending on the situation they are used in.
An optimal interest based approach takes off in a nuanced assessment of a situation. For instance – “what is the baseline?”, “is the meaning that I attribute the situation true?”, “what do I want to obtain?”, “what is best for the project?” and so on.
This is combined with the concrete competences that the individual project manager has in the use of the different styles, where you will ask yourself questions as “how is my own behavior?” and “how do I counter the situation in the best way with which style?”.
The usage of the styles
If you as a project manager often experience resistance, conflicts and devastating bumps on the road, or if you do not feel that you have the necessary impact, it can be valuable to look inwardly on your own behavior and immediate reaction patterns, when situations accumulate. Imagine a situation where you have called in for a kick-off meeting with a new steering committee. Here you become, as a project manager, a witness for a bigger disagreement and loud discussion which is not about your project between any of the participants. A meeting where you hoped to add more resources to your needy project.
Example: Experience 1
You feel a growing aggravation in yourself while you try to control the situation.
Behavior: You get irritated, bang the table, interrupts the discussion and moves focus to your wish about resources for the project.
Benefits: The project manager’s attitude becomes clear and creates peace here and now
Disadvantages: The project manager risks forward-looking to be in resistance and harm the relation to the steering committee and the project.
Example: Experience 2
You feel discomfort while you consider how to get out of the situation.
Behavior: You are passive, you withdraw, and let the discussion continue
Benefits: You make room for the others to finish the discussion and get the tensions reduced
Disadvantages: You give up the possibility to control, and the missing power to focus on the project can challenge the steering committee on trust to the project manager’s competences.
In both situations the project manager risks to harm the relation to the steering committee, and thus reduce the opportunity to make a good start and create the foundation for a healthy cooperation forward-looking. It makes sense if the relation is not important for the project and it stays like that forward-looking. But what if one’s behavior contributes to escalate an unnecessary conflict and you end up burning bridges? Instead, did you need to build long-term relations to carry the project through? A brief analysis of case and relation can help to choose the most appropriate style. (see figure 2)
In the previous situation, it can be argued that the case is significant (the needy project should be on the right track). The relation is similarly important because the cooperation with the steering committee can have crucial importance for the success of the project forward-looking. An interactive behavior will be the most appropriate style here.
Example: Experience 3
You feel a growing aggravation in yourself and discomfort in the situation, but at the same time see an opportunity to clear some misunderstandings, which obviously take the focus from the project.
Behavior: You actively take control while you acknowledge the discussion and the individual’s point of view, and here the different interests and needs challenge.
Benefit: The project manager shows power and at the same time various possibilities are highlighted for development of the project in cooperation with the group.
Disadvantage: The process becomes more time-consuming. Be aware that the interest in order to create solutions in the “win-win”-perspective and the problem solving style can be low as it means that the parties must think untraditionally and move away from the comfort zone which is in a rules- and rights-perspective.
Management internally with take-off in the conflict and negotiation styles is about actively to build on the behavior which creates value and can effectively be accessed in three steps.
a – Know and control your conflict style.
b – Find the right style for the situation. Look upon the situation in proportion to the tool case/relation and consider which field they really are in, and choose your style based on what you want to influence.
c – Use the styles effectively. You can advantageously utilize several styles – if you have chosen an interactive style, and if the dialogue lasts long, you can profitably change to another style in order to break the situation.
The clutch to sense making is that we as human beings not only interpret, but are active co-creators of meaning in our lives, and the take-off for our actions is directly derived therefrom. Your opinion and your experience substrate in proportion to the situation will instinctively affect your behavior in the situation. The more nuanced our self-image is, and the better we can develop our ability to register and understand various nuances of a certain situation and understand others – the greater freedom we provide ourselves to move focus from own history to what is demanded of the situation, and consciously act on basis of that knowledge.
One thing is to be aware of own conflict- and negotiation styles internally, and use it determinedly. Another thing is how you relate to others style and can affect this and other’s behavior.
Mediator and holder of RisbjergRelation. Teaches organizations to develop interaction and good conflict behavior. Mediates conflicts in impasse and helps projects back on track.
Computer scientist, digital entrepreneur and impartial IT management consultant. Assists organizations to create an overview, structure and direction, when changes need to be implemented or new things need to be created.