Handling Conflict

Stanford vs Cal

People have different ways of dealing with conflicts.  Some may try to 'beat' the other guy down, others will avoid conflict at all costs, and still others may try to find common ground.  And some people will use different strategies depending on who the conflict is with.  It's useful to understand the different kinds of strategies you can use to handle conflict and to know which styles are most comfortable to you.

It's important to understand that not all conflict is bad.  Some conflict is inevitable and productive.  People have different perspectives and I've frequently found that by stopping and really listening to someone who is arguing with me, I'll understand some aspect of the issue I hadn't considered.  I spent a good portion of my life as a 'know-it-all', and I believed that winning an argument meant not conceding any of the other side's points.  Now I find that it pays to listen to other opinions - even if I totally disagree, it may spur me to think about a different, better solution to the problem.  Healthy conflict can be inspiring and invigorating.

On the other hand, some conflict is toxic.  I've encountered coworkers who were frankly mean and who would contradict whatever I said, just on principle.  These are unproductive interactions and it is best to remove yourself from them.  Check out the next section on Handling Difficult People for some tips.

Before proceeding with this section, please look at the Conflict Resolution Style Survey.  Download the spreadsheet or print out a copy and follow the instructions before you read further.  It will only take you about 10 mins to do the survey and you'll understand what styles you use most often.  The letters of the responses you get will match the letters of the paragraphs below.  Once you have determined which styles you use,  go ahead and read the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy below.

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