Dealing with Conflict

As parents on a daily basis we are exposed to different conflicts, between our children, them and their friends as well as between us and them. We will on occasion have conflicts with each other and being able to understand how best to deal with different conflicts, it makes us a better parent and makes for a less stressful life.

In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness.

They argued that people typically have a preferred conflict resolution style. However they also noted that different styles were most useful in different situations. They developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) which helps you to identify which style you tend towards when conflict arises.

Thomas and Kilmann’s styles are:

Competitive: With two competitive kids in the house this technique is often used to hurry the kids along. Getting them dressed in the morning, out to the car can all be achieved with well managed conflict to create a bit of competition.

People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability.

Collaborative: Often the kids are playing with one toy, and then move on rapidly to the next or as is often the case that they complain about either being bored, or hungry. This creates tension in the kids as they argue about the mess, or bicker about what they want to do next. To get around this I’ve often used a collaborative approach to dissolve the tensions. For example by getting them to work together I can get them to clear up from playing with one toy before letting them get something else  to stop them getting bored. Before dinner I get them to help set the table, get their mum for dinner to get them to fill the time while I finish off dinner.

By getting them to cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important they all feel needed and that they are doing a good job. This style is useful in a work situation when you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

Compromising: People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Surprisingly I don’t have to get the kids to compromise with each other much in our house, apart from both wanting to play games on the tablet or computer at the same time they rarely fight over the same things.  And on these events I get them to compromise by setting time limits and getting them to take turns.

Treats however are always reached by compromise, they want crisps, sweets or the nicest of chocolate biscuits; I want to give them Digestive biscuits, so depending on how good they have been we end up somewhere between.

Everyone knows the value of compromise, and it is important that kids know the basis on which the compromise is made. They learn that Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming (quick you have to choose 5, 4, 3, 2, 1).

Accommodating: This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. As parents we are all overly familiar with accommodating the needs and demands of our kids, sometimes for a quiet life, but let’s be honest, usually because we love them. And so we buy them that occasional treat when we’re out, let them have Pizza and chicken nuggets when dining out because we know that’s what they like and want.

The Accommodation approach to conflict resolution is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. However people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

Avoiding: Whilst in the office Avoiding conflicts is often a weak and ineffective approach to take. It can sometimes work well with children as they have shorter attention spans and moods are subject to rapid changes. Hence a decision to go to the play ground, play centre or some other demands that kids are looking for can often be put off till the weekend, or till we see what the weather is like or what else turns up. That way promises to go somewhere or do something can be avoided.

I once made the promise (under duress) to my kids that we’d go to the beach at the weekend, as the weather was quite nice. Bad mistake, we live in Ireland after all and by the time the weekend had arrived the weather had turned and it was pouring down.  Of course in the morning they did remind me that I’d promised we could go to the beach at the weekend, so I got my rain coat out, dry trousers and thermal jumper packed the kids up and off we went. The kids lasted 10 min before they were asking to go home. No I insisted, I promised the beach, you demanded the beach so we’re at the beach. I made them stay for another 10 min before letting them go home.  Now they accept avoiding decision making until they have all the information.

At home, looking after kids and meeting other parents we get to experience and use all of these different styles of dealing with conflict. Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you’re in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary.

Ideally you can adopt an approach that meets the situation, resolves the problem, respects people’s legitimate interests, and mends damaged working relationships.

Adapted from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_81.htm


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