Sometimes we have to relearn a lesson we thought we knew. I attended a mediation training program last week, and one of the presenters used a model similar to the Thomas-Kilmann Model of Conflict Resolution, which I wrote about on September 24, 2012, in one of the more popular posts on this blog.
The labels on the model last week were a little different. The Thomas-Kilmann model labels the five styles of conflict resolution as avoiding, accommodating, compromising, competing, and collaborating. The model last week labeled them (in the same locations on the grid) as avoidance, accommodation, negotiated compromise, competition, and interest-based bargaining. Clearly the same ideas.
I made the point in my earlier post that we each have conflict resolution styles that we prefer. Some people want to avoid conflict, others seek out competition, others are natural collaborators.
What I had to relearn was that each style of conflict resolution has its place.
The presenter last week advocated interest-based bargaining (which the Thomas-Kilmann model calls collaboration) as the highest and best method of conflict resolution. I don’t necessarily agree.
Interest-based bargaining (collaboration) may be best if the parties are interdependent and want to build an ongoing relationship. In cases like these where a conflict develops between two or more parties, searching for their mutual interests and creating a solution that fosters their future relationship is likely to be the longest lasting and most successful resolution of the conflict.
But in many cases that mediators handle (including most situations already in litigation), the parties only want to resolve the dispute in front of them. In these cases, negotiated compromise will probably work just fine. The parties may decide to move toward collaboration, if they can find mutual interests that offer more opportunities for settlement. But most of the time, it’s a matter of reaching agreement on how much one party will pay the other, and spending the time and energy to look for mutual interests is probably a waste. (Clearly, I lean toward the evaluative form of mediation, not the transformational.)
Some situations are set up to be competitions. When several businesses are bidding for a job, only one can win. The businesses are in conflict, and they are not expected to collaborate (in fact, such collusion might be illegal).
In other cases, avoidance or accommodation might be the best option. I got my car washed last weekend, and they did a lousy job, which I didn’t discover until I was back home. I weighed the merits of returning to argue that they should wash my car again for free against the time, aggravation, and $7.00 cost of getting another car wash in a couple of weeks. I avoided that conflict. I feel a bit like a schmo, but I think I did the right thing.
When have you used each style of conflict resolution? Why did you approach the situation the way you did?