Conflict Resolution Styles … So, Which Shade of Orange Are You?

January 27, 2013

During a recent team building training at my workplace, I heard a great story about internal conflict resolution styles and how these affect the end result. 

Two employees, Chris from sales and Ana from professional services, both want the last remaining orange in the break room. A seemingly reasonable solution would be to compromise and split the orange in half. That makes perfect sense, right?

Let’s assume that’s what they do. Problem solved. Well, not quite. Later, we learn Chris actually wanted the juice from the orange to make a special drink for the sales team, while Ana wanted the rind of the orange to use as an ingredient for a cake she planned to bake for the professional services team.

Had they discussed their respective needs and worked together collaboratively, each could have had the equivalent of a whole orange. The situation was initially perceived as a conflict by the parties involved, while it was actually complimentary.

The lesson learned from the ‘orange conflict’ can easily be applied to a plethora of conflicts that arise in any workplace. Collaboration is not always the best conflict resolution style.  

Furthermore, one shouldn’t expect each person to resolve a conflict in the same manner. According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), based on an individual’s tendency to be assertive or cooperative, their conflict resolution style will vary between one of the following five standard modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating.

If Chris is extremely competitive and Ana overly avoiding, the whole orange ends up in Chris’s hands. Such an outcome can potentially harm their working relationship because Ana could lose trust in working with Chris.

So what is the real takeaway here?  It is important to be aware of the five conflict resolution styles so you can identify when it is appropriate to apply one or the other to a conflict in order to reach the most desirable result.

Additionally, learning which conflict resolution style you tend to favor will help you find the areas where you can improve on your conflict resolution skills. Each of the five styles represent practical social skills you can use effectively when working with one or more people to resolve a work conflict. Next time you run into a workplace conflict, ask yourself - “What can I contribute best to the team through my five shades of orange?”

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