Exploring the Five Approaches to Conflict, Part 4: Competing

This is a five-part series on exploring the approaches to conflict. The five approaches are: avoiding, accommodating, collaborating, competing, and compromising. Just to note, 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 you use is dependent on the environment (at work, at home), and the person with whom the conflict is (friend, partner, coworker). We choose our battles. Today, I will explore competing, a dangerous approach to conflict.

Approaches to conflict chart

Competing: defined

Competing is the best and the worst. The thing about a competing approach to conflict is that there is an endgame: winning. Everyone likes to win. A lot of people think that the only way to win is through competing. In our capitalistic culture, we are always competing. As mentioned in my first deconstructing conflict article, I look at how competition is a root of conflict. If you approach conflict using competition, and competition is a root of conflict, you end up in a vicious cycle. There is a difference between competing and collaborating, and sometimes it is not always clear because a collaborator wins in a non-zero sum game. Approaching conflict through competing is zero-sum, and a zero-sum game to conflict is not good.

How to stop competing

Our nature is competition. And competition is not always bad. There are certain times and situation where competition makes sense. Need to compete for a raise? Go for it. Is there a decision that has a hard, tight deadline? Get after it. Some of our jobs have competition built-in – sales, marketing, and others. But in everyday conflicts, we can choose not to compete.

Approaching conflict through competing lacks an interest in others, in cooperation. Even if you hate the person with whom you are competing, there is something to having care for others. You might not know what someone is going through, and without listening, you can compete your way to victory. The key to not competing does not involve accommodating or avoiding, it is all about collaborating. You can still win, and the other person can win too! Using listening strategies outlined before, you can find common ground where both parties win.

I am done competing, what if everyone else still does?

Yikes. If you stop competing, you might start thinking that you are going to lose if the person with whom you have conflict is still competing. This could lead to avoiding or accommodating. It’s easy to compete if others are competing. But, if you listen and identify issues, you can work towards collaboration. If you can get the other person to understand that you both can win, then collaboration is the answer. This takes skill and practice. Reframing issues takes time.

Getting stuck on a competition, self-interest loop can be devastating. Understanding that you can sacrifice short-term self-gain for long-term interests will be crucial in letting others compete while you choose a different path. I am a competer. It is my default. I have to consciously think about what it means to win without focusing solely on my self interest. It is challenging, and it is rewarding to get past competing.

So, what exactly is wrong with competing?

Competing is not always bad. We compete to survive and to gain money. We compete to win our jobs and to win our partners. Just realize that there are situations where competing is more destructive than helpful. Everyone wants to win in conflict, and approaching conflict by competing does not result in a real win. A real win is one where everyone in the conflict is satisfied, and that is not possible in the zero-sum game of competing.

Next Week: Compromising

It Next week is part 5 of the five approaches to conflict series, focusing on compromising.