This is the first in a series about managing conflict. The introduction to this series begins here.
The first of the five modes of conflict is Competing, which describes when a person is assertive (they satisfy their own concerns) and uncooperative (they do not satisfy the other person’s concerns). Even though the aim of this mode is to win, and often at any cost, it is not a “win-win” situation. The other party’s concerns are un-met, so this mode is “win-lose.”
In my experience, the Competing mode is chosen (or preferred) by people who fall into two camps:
- They either intuitively or deliberately take an pro-active or aggressive position in tense situations, or
- They fear conflict so much that they over-compensate by going “over-the-top”
Competing should be used primarily in situations when the outcome is extremely important to you. You need to be assertive, so your two options are Competing and Collaborating. Ideally, Collaborating is a often a better option – it’s “win-win” – but when this mode is not an option, Competing at least ensures you meet or satisfy your concerns. Ideal situations for the Competing mode include those times when you must make a decision, you must assert yourself, or you need to protect or defend your interests.
However, Competing has significant drawbacks. Most of all, it can strain or damage the relationship with the other party which, in turn, provokes a variety of negative responses: ongoing confrontation (especially with future negotiations, such as revenge), or lower motivation, interest or initiative. In other words, use Competing only when necessary – not as a default or commencing style.
If Competing is the Appropriate Option …
… here are some questions to inspire your creativity to create options which might minimise negative emotions or resistance.
How can you build your credibility?
To persuade the other party in a constructive way requires you to make your case, not just dictate. One way to persuade in the Competing mode is to explain why. Be transparent. Be clear. Be rational without appearing aloof. If any part of the decision reeks of a hidden agenda, your credibility is shot – and that’s one asset you can’t afford to damage.
How can you prepare them for your decisions?
Conflicts between two parties are typically not instantaneous. Many times, an issue or concern has been simmering for awhile. Doing some background work prior to the conflict discussion can uncover critical pieces of information.
At the same time, it’s often beneficial to lay the ground-work for the conversation itself. Does something need to happen before this meeting? Can the other party be engaged beforehand to (at least) understand a difficult decision needs to be made?
How can you transcend the conflict?
It’s easy in the midst of the conflict to get lost in the nitty-gritty of the conversation itself, and forget the real purpose: what are we ultimately trying to achieve? For example, “What’s best for all of us, not just a few?” Or, “We need to focus on the future, not just finding an answer which makes us happy today.” By looking at the forest, not the necessarily the trees, it often helps to re-frame the problem for the other party – and perhaps more so, for you too.
How can you be specific?
In certain cases, it’s preferable to focus on the facts, and not the emotions involved. That’s as true for them as it is for you. (For example, don’t hold them responsible for the overall – or your – problems.) As much as possible, try to ground your opinions in facts. Make your intuition (your ‘gut reaction’) concrete.
How can you show respect?
This is absolutely imperative if the other party is Asian: you must allow the other person to “save face.” At the end of the day, remember that both parties are people first. That’s why the conflict should be dealt with as an objective topic, and that decisions should never be taken personally.
How can you show you’re listening?
This point can be divided into two parts. First, do you have full perspective on the conflict? If you listen to the concerns of the other party, can you glean anything valuable to help improve the overall decision? Listening also creates “space,” which in turn can bring a breath of calm to both sides. Second, can allowing the other party to “vent” be therapeutic? A final point: Competing should not be confused with totally dominating the conversation.
How can you demonstrate fairness?
In true Competing situations, the conversation is probably not equal. You are an authority figure, and you must make or impose the final decision. Even so, a neutral facilitator might help bring credibility to the discussion, and in certain cases, prevent side-conversations or tangents which may slow down action. At the same time, it’s often helpful to offer concessions, especially things which are valuable to them but cost you nothing. A common example? Offer an apology.
How can you reward the other party rather than impose threats?
Fear is not a constructive motivator. Rewarding people – especially when the change process will be difficult – will position you as an engaging leader, one whom people will want to follow in the future. Be creative with the types of incentives you might offer. This might be a good topic to brainstorm with the other party, primarily to engage them in the decision and its after-math.
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