Exploring the Five Approaches to Conflict, Part 3: Collaborating

This is a five-part series on exploring the approaches to conflict. The five approaches are: avoiding, accommodating, collaborating, competing, and compromising. No one is a purist in his or her approach. Everyone has some elements of the five approaches to conflict in their repertoires. The approach we use is dependent on our environment (at work, at home), and the person with whom our conflict is (friend, partner, coworker). We choose our battles. Today, we explore collaborating, which is arguably the best conflict approach.

Approaches to conflict chart

Collaborating: defined

You made it. Collaborating is the best way to conflict. It’s a “win-win” strategy, where we have a high concern for others and a high self-concern. The difficulty with collaborating is that it takes both parties. If we want to collaborate, but the other person does not, we end up accommodating, competing, or avoiding. Ultimately, collaborating takes nuance and practice.

Balancing assertion and cooperation

A big part of collaborating is identifying AND understanding the issues. It’s easy to think, “of course I have a high self-concern and other-concern,” but it’s more challenging to express a joint self-other concern. It’s very easy to lean too far towards self and become a competer or too far towards others and become an accommodator. When we have a deep understanding of the issues, we are on our way to collaborating.

How do we identify the issues?

There are many ways to identify issues underlying conflict. The most important and simplest way to find an issue is to listen. Often, we wait to talk instead of actively listen. We interpret what someone said instead of asking for clarification. When we listen, pay attention, and focus, its incredible how much we learn. Listening involves engaging in the conversation.

When we THINK we heard something that sounded off, reframe what the other person said back to them to see if what we think we heard is actually what we heard. Allow for silence. It may seem unnatural at first, but when we take the time to think, we might not have anything to say. Auto-responding isn’t always an ideal way to respond. Especially when our interpretation of what someone says does not always reflect reality.

Instead of immediately responding based on what we were waiting to say, take time to think about what the other person said. Listening is a learned skill. Once we become better listeners, and we reframe what the other person said for better understanding, the underlying issues will rise. Learning how to listen is just part of the equation, though. Interpreting tone, body language, posture, and non-verbal communications is equally critical to understanding the issues. In later posts, I will dive deeper into some of these skills, but in the meantime, practice active listening. 

Fostering collaboration

Collaborating is great, but it takes both sides. To foster collaboration, we must put our best feet forward. Building rapport through active listening is a start. Being friendly, smiling, having a firm handshake, and making eye contact are critical relationship building tools.

Because, ultimately, collaboration happens because of relationships. Relationships, specifically, built on trust. Someone’s willingness to collaborate will always fly higher when there is more trust in the relationship. When we listen and understand what the other person’s issues are, we find more opportunities to collaborate in our conflict. 

It’s challenging to focus on collaboration during conflict, which is why its critical to seek out coaching. Thankfully, I’m here to coach you on how to foster collaboration and manage emotions when in conflict. 

Next Week: Competing

Next week is part 3 of the five approaches to conflict series, focusing on competing.