Types of Reactions to Conflict

A certain amount of conflict is healthy and normal within a variety of relationships. Many things cause conflict, including differing values, ideas, perceptions, desires and experiences. Responses to conflict determine whether the disagreement leads to growth and development or causes pain and setbacks. Behavioral scientists Ralph Kilmann and Kenneth Thomas developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model, which identifies five different responses to conflict.


If you use aggression, intimidation and confrontation to win an argument or gain the upper hand during a disagreement, you respond competitively to conflict. Rather than focusing on understanding the other person's points, thoughts and concerns, you focus on winning the conflict without compromising your position. This response to conflict does not address the substance of the disagreement; it emphasizes the outcome.


When you accommodate the other person during a conflict, you prioritize her feelings and needs, sometimes at the expense of yours. If you appropriately accept defeat during a conflict, this style prevents damage to relationships and hurt feelings. Telling the other person she is right and accepting responsibility for the conflict because you don't want to upset the relationship by sharing your thoughts and are afraid to work toward a collective decision and mutual understanding means that the conflict might end without true resolution 2. Rather than addressing the content, you focus on pleasing the other person and making her happy or decreasing her negative feelings about the conflict.


Appropriate avoidance occurs when you need more time to think about the conflict and how you would like to handle it or when you need more time to process your thoughts and emotions. Unhealthy avoidance entails disengaging from the situation with the hope that it will resolve itself without an intervention or discussion.


Compromise involves both parties participating in a give-and-take exchange, seeking a win-win solution to resolving conflicts. Valuing the relationship and keeping it intact is an important aspect of this conflict response. Rather than focusing on one winner, you bargain with the other person to find a happy medium where you each adjust some of your needs for the benefit of the overall relationship.


Responding to conflict in a collaborative manner means you focus on understanding the root of the problem, the feelings and reasons behind the conflict, and your own views as well as the other person's reasons. Creativity and problem solving are two key elements in this approach to conflict. A collaborative response focuses not on winning, but rather on mutual respect and working together to overcome conflict.