There are five default styles when approaching and dealing with conflict. They are often referred to as: competing, compromising, collaborating, avoiding, and accommodating. These five styles involve different strategies to utilize in attaining positive outcomes. Understanding your default approach to conflict will help you understand and identify your own behavioral patterns as well as the behavioral patterns of the other party involved.

Your conflict style and strategy should adjust as you move through the divorce process, keeping in mind that each style has advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation.

 Some brief characteristics of each style are:

  • Competing – assertive and uncooperative; a power-oriented mode; this person may pursue his or her concerns at the other person’s expense. This style can be used effectively when decisions need to be made – for example, in an emergency situation.
  • Compromising – intermediate in assertiveness and cooperativeness; this person looks to find a practical and mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. A person using this style is striving for even distribution or seeking a middle ground. This style can be used effectively to achieve temporary settlements to complex issues or to arrive at a solution under time constraints.
  • Collaborating – assertive and cooperative; this person listens and looks for needs and interests of all persons involved in order to find common ground. A person using this style is attempting to work with the other person to find a solution that fully satisfies all concerns. This style can be used effectively to fuse insights of two individuals with very different perspectives on an issue.
  • Avoiding – unassertive and uncooperative; this person may not address conflict at all. A person using this style may either be withdrawing from conflict or utilizing it to postpone an issue for a better time. This style can be used effectively in situations where the potential costs of confronting a conflict outweigh the benefits of resolving it. It may also be an effective tool when a person needs to cool down and regain composure.
  • Accommodating – unassertive and cooperative; this person may neglect his or her own concerns to satisfy the other person. A person using this style may be making too many sacrifices and as a result, may reduce creative solutions. This style can be used effectively when the issue is more important to the other party than it is to you, or when continued competition will only hinder the process.

Your personal preference or learned approach to handling conflict often translates into your default style. Though difficult, it is important to accept that the way you have handled conflict in the past may not effectively serve you at each juncture of the divorce process. Accordingly, your approach to conflict should be fluid and should change depending on the conflict presented. For example, choosing to utilize the “compromising” style may require you to accept an outcome that is less than what you hoped for but one that may ultimately achieve more stability for you and/or your children.

  • The linchpin of conflict resolution is to focus on what you can achieve rather than what you have to give up. Acquiring the ability to ebb and flow through a negotiation by employing different conflict styles can make for the difference between constructive or destructive communication, effective or ineffective decision making, and ultimately whether or not you and the other party are able to reach important and life-altering agreements.

 Beth F. McCormack, Family Law Partner