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Dealing with conflict


Working together

Styles of handling conflict


  • There are different styles of handling conflict.
  • The choice of style depends on the participants, topic, timeline, and desired outcome.

Different individuals have different predominant styles of handling conflict. There are a variety of conflict style inventories available. They generally categorize the handling of conflict into 4 or 5 styles: avoiding, compromising, controlling or competing, collaborating, and accommodating. Each of the styles has a place in your repertoire as they all have advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation.

Click on each image in the diagram to display explanatory text below.
Avoiding  Useful:  For issues of low importance. When a delay is of no consequence. When you need to buy some time. When emotions are so raw that discussion is not possible. When you already have control of the situation. If you have little or no power. Downsides:  Lack of resolution. Issues may fester. Others may become frustrated or confused.
Compromising  Useful:  For issues that are time sensitive but of low importance. When parties are equal. When temporary solutions are needed. When other solutions have failed. Downsides:  Everyone may be dissatisfied. Real issues not addressed. Solutions may be short-lived . Creative, collaborative options may never be found. Viewed as indecisive.
Controlling or Competing  Useful:  When quick action required (emergencies). When you are the most qualified decision-maker. When reaching your goal is more important than what others think. Downsides:  Others feel ignored and may become resentful. Others may never provide feedback. Creative solutions may be lost.
Collaborating  Useful:  For creative, long-term solutions . To create a positive environment. To sustain relationships. When the issue is too important to permit compromise. When exploring or expanding into new areas. Downsides:  Time consuming. Frustration if used in situations where prompt decision needed.
Accommodating  Useful:  For creation of goodwill . When situations are of limited long-term importance. When you can't defend your position. When pushing your view would damage the relationship. Downsides:  Your input may be ignored. Your influence may be restricted . You may feel undervalued.
Avoiding Compromising Controlling or competing Collaborating Accomodating

Despite best intentions, physicians cannot meet all patient or family expectations. Conflict can arise when these expectations are not met. All physicians encounter difficult behaviour and conflict with some patients or patients' families.

Difficult behaviours, be they with patients, families, staff, or colleagues may evoke negative reactions in physicians. Physicians need to be aware of maladaptive responses to which they may fall prey, including getting angry, blaming the other individual, being accusatory, and ignoring phone calls or emails. Physicians must strive to remain calm and focus on understanding the other individual's behaviour and considering how best to respond.

Think about it

What is your preferred style of response to conflict?

Name the advantages and disadvantages of different styles of conflict management. When might you use each one?