This is the second in a series about managing conflict. The introduction to this series begins here.
A second mode of conflict is Accommodating, which describes when a person is cooperative, but not assertive. In other words, they try to satisfy the other person’s concerns at the expense of their own. The aim of this mode is to yield, and often to maintain the relationship or status quo between themselves and other other party.
With no direct research to support my theory beyond my own empirical experience, I frequently find workshop participants who prefer or choose this mode to be the quintessential “people person.” Much like an F profile in Myers-Briggs, they admit that in conflicts they are as much or more interested in the other person and how they feel about the issues and concerns, or how they use their values and harmony to make decisions about how to re-act in the conflict. In a workshop a few weeks ago, one person told me: “I let my personal connection with the person get in the way of the conflict. Perhaps even on purpose.” As a result, an Accommodating person will concede or discount their own concerns.
Sometimes this is a good thing. Accommodating can be an ideal conflict style – but only in specific circumstances, for example:
- When not meeting your concerns is low risk to you, or to the topic in conflict.
- When the other party has a better alternative to your ways to satisfy the concerns, or you’re over-ruled by authority or expertise.
- When “giving in” means will either maintain or build goodwill, and often credibility, with the other party. This could be particularly valuable if the conflict is part of a longer project, and a concession now might mean an even better solution in the future.
Like all modes, Accommodating has its drawbacks. In contrast to Competing, where the brunt of the drawbacks injury the other side, the brunt of the Accommodating drawbacks is felt by the person themselves. By sacrificing, neglecting or ignoring their own concerns, negative or destructive personal issues come to the fore: resentment or anger from appeasing the other side (“I can’t believe I let them talk me into their way of thinking – again!”), to loss of motivation to try harder (“if they’re always going to win anyway”).
If there’s a “golden rule” to Accommodating style, this mode only when your concerns are low or manageable. Don’t fall into a cycle of appeasement.
If Accommodating is the Appropriate Option …
… here are some questions to inspire your creativity to create options which might minimise appeasement or negative emotions.
How can you prevent a pattern of sacrifice? (And, how can I stop it from happening more than once?)
One reason why people use the Accommodating mode frequently is when the other party is a bully, aggressively pushing their agenda and ideas during the conflict. It’s not only understandable, sometimes it’s necessary. At the same time, this isn’t a situation you want to find yourself over and over. You need to find a time when harmony reigns so you can bring up the issue to the other party. Many times, reflective hindsight can help stem future conflicts. But, if it continues, you have two options: bring up the conflict to a trusted senior person in your organisation for advice and counsel, or if it gets intolerable, find another job or position. I speak from personal opinion on this one: it is never worth it.
How can I concede without looking like a “push-over”?
If you’re wrong, admit it honestly and quickly.
If you’re going to be over-ruled, concede gracefully and quickly.
If you can see you’re going to lose, bow out quickly and graciously.
The key to each scenario is to find creative ways to learn from it. After the situation is over, ask someone with more experience to give you input and counsel. No one expects you to have a perfect solution each time, but your peers and colleagues absolutely expect you to lift your game each time.
How can I concede without resentment or anger?
It’s likely in professional conflicts for hard feelings to occur – either theirs, or yours – because of an unpopular decision.
If you’re the one harbouring resentment, the simple – and yet difficult – answer is to forgive and move on. Anger is the most wasteful of emotions, and hoping for an opportunity to get revenge is taking up time which could be put to more constructive tasks. Or, think of it this way: by taking the high road and letting go of the animosity, you’ll generally earn respect from everyone involved.
If the other party is harbouring resentment at you, you should find ways to help them vent in constructive ways. One of the most common examples? Apologise, and do it sincerely. Accept and acknowledge the blame, and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it’s nothing more than doing them a favour (a very public favour, in fact), or allowing others their turn, or to share of the limelight.
If the venting comes with anger, accept it – but not the abuse which might go with it. For the vast majority of people, the good thing about anger is that it’s the equivalent of valving a tire on a hot summer day. The quick release of energy restores balance quickly, and sometimes, comes with an apology from them too.
How can I set the stage for better conflict management in the future?
Some professional conflict rises during a project or situation which is ongoing or long-term. Resistance, changing dynamics or politics, new procedures can cause all sorts of problems, and conflicts can be frequent. It’s common that you may need to concede here and there for the balance of the organisation or team, so it’s vital to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. But even when you may concede, there’s always an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a more suitable environment or the next phase. Look creatively for ways to learn new information, experience the problems or opportunities first-hand, and listen and take in the other side’s perspective. By doing this, you’re better able to planet the seeds of new ideas, attitudes, outcomes or actions in the future.
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