Me: But by asserting yourself and talking out the issue, you not only take the power back but you end the conflict instead of dragging it out for days at a time.
Tom: Point made. Maybe it comes down to self-respect. I need to respect myself first.
Me: Exactly. By standing up for yourself you are truly respecting yourself. You’re also changing the pattern that you’ve used for years and thereby changing the dynamic of your relationships. All of that by choosing to respond differently when triggered.
Tom: But what if it doesn’t work?
Me: If you stay consistent around it, people will eventually accept the new you. If you are erratic where sometimes you assert yourself while other times you don’t, you’ll be sending mixed messages and then it won’t work. Consistency is the key.
Tom: You want me to call Nancy, don’t you!
Me: Why wait to change the pattern.
The above true story introduces the concept of Rule 3: Choose Your Style. When I explain this concept in the classroom, I introduce the five different Thomas Kilmann Conflict Styles (Avoiding, Accommodating, Compromising, Collaborating and Forcing) and have the class self-select which style is their “go-to” style under most circumstances.
My intent in this blog is merely to emphasize the importance of choosing the most appropriate style for the conflict at hand as opposed to being the style. What do I mean? The key to any conflict resolution process is to separate ourselves from the conflict. When we are attached to the conflict, like Tom was in the scenario above, it becomes personal and our ego, feelings, and self-concept muddy the water and often take us in the opposite direction from resolution. Tom’s relationship with Nancy didn’t have to be over. His decision was based on emotion and hurt feelings not on logic. Tom got so caught up in the dynamics that he lost sight of the options that were available to him. As a result, he didn’t choose a conflict style but instead slipped into his “go-to” style or “default” style of avoidance. Granted, avoidance may have been the most comfortable style for him but clearly not the most effective.
A colleague of mine said it best: We have a bow and a quiver with five arrows at our disposal at any given time. Each arrow represents one of the five conflict styles. When in a conflict, we need to keep our eye on the bull’s-eye (the desired outcome) and choose the arrow which will get us there most accurately. If we don’t choose an arrow, our default arrow becomes our arrow of choice. The problem is that our default arrow has more to do with familiarity and self-protection than conflict resolution. More often than not, it isn’t our best choice.