Collaborative Approach to Conflict Management

I read an interesting article a few months ago about a new “Collaborative S tyle” of conflict management. This involves finding a solution that completely satisfies the concerns of both parties (not just one)  in a conflict.

To explain further what this means all the various  conflict styles will be described. They are:-

1. Competing – assertive and uncooperative. You satisfy your own concerns at the expense of the other. Win/Lose.

2 Accommodating – unassertive and co-operative. You sacrifice your own concern’s to satisfy the other party.Lose/Win

3. Compromising – partially assertive and partially co-operative. You look for an acceptable settlement that only partially satisfies your own and the other party. 1/2 Lose/ 1/2 Win   //    1/2Lose / 1/2 Win

4. Avoiding – unassertive and uncooperative. You try to sidestep or postpone the conflict, satisfying neither you concerns or the others. Lose/Lose

5. Collaborative – assertive and co-operative. You try to problem solve to find a solution that completely satisfies both your concerns and the others’.
Win / Win

Many people maybe surprised that a Collaborative outcome can be possible.  What makes this different to the other styles,  is that everyone involved is listening to the others’ views,  not just focusing on their own needs and trying to incorporate the former into sound decisions.

It is important that people recognize which style they tend towards, before learning to adapt another style.  Also one must learn to identify which style is most appropriate or productive for each given situation.

Research shows that a Collaborative Style of conflict resolution leads to superior decisions especially for complex and non routine issues eg. negotiation over resources.   It is better at combining diverse insights into more accurate understandings leading to more innovative solutions.  It also enhances communication learning and builds trust.

Another key to implementing this mode is to distinguish between “Positions” and “Concerns”.   Concerns are the things people in a conflict care about.  For instance, miners wish to ensure that their industry remains competitive and that they have enough profits to invest for future growth and new projects.  The Government wishes to ensure that they can raise more funds in order to provide important services and infrastructure which is needed for the community and help pay off the budget deficit which occurred due to the Global Financial Crisis.

Positions on the other hand are the solutions that each party recommends as a way of satisfying their concerns.  Eg.  Miners hold a position they do not want a super profits tax introduced whereas the Government does see the need for this.

In finding out the Concerns of each party (and not just their positions),  there is a much greater possibility of finding other innovative or alternative solutions (or positions) which may end up satisfying the needs of both parties.   This is where brainstorming and creative problem solving can come into play.

Naturally this style will be more successful if both parties learn to adopt these Collaborative techniques on an equal level.   It is important that such discussions also do not erupt into personality conflicts and clashes which can be highly destructive.   Both parties involved would need to be very secure in themselves to implement such a mature and advanced conflict resolution style, since it can often require a greater openness  as to personal concerns behind positions that people hold.   To reach collaborative solutions can take much longer.  Also views expressed can still be quite passionate.  However the time taken to achieve collaborative solutions can often lead to better outcomes for all concerned in the long term.

Perhaps managers,  top executives and leaders in power need to learn to adopt collaborative techniques in a greater measure so that more satisfactory solutions and outcomes may be achieved for all parties concerned.

These ideas were taken from a White Paper entitled “Making Conflict Management a Strategic Advantage”  by Kenneth W Thomas  Ph. D


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