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. No one is a purist in the approach. Everyone uses some elements of the five approaches to conflict. The approach we use depends on the environment (e.g., work, home), and the person with whom the conflict is (e.g., 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 worst. A competing approach to conflict involves an endgame: winning. Everyone likes to win. Many people think that the only way to win is by competing. In our capitalistic culture, we always compete.

As mentioned here, competition is a root of conflict. If we approach conflict using competition, and competition is a root of conflict, we 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 situations 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 and marketing. But in everyday conflicts, we can choose to not compete.

When we approach conflict by competing, we show a lack of interest in others, in cooperating. Even when we hate the person on the other side of the conflict, there is something to be said about caring for others. We might not know what someone else is going through, and without listening, we compete to victory. But is victory the resolution that we want?

The key to not competing does not involve accommodating or avoiding; it is to collaborate. We win, and the other person wins too! Using the listening strategies previously discussed, we can find common ground.

I’m done competing, what now?

Yikes. If we stop competing, we might start believing that we will lose. We would lose because the other person still compete. When we stop competing with a computer, we might avoid or accommodate. It’s easy to compete if others compete. But, when we listen and name issues, we can work towards collaboration. If we can get the other person to understand that we can both win, then collaboration is the answer. This reframing takes skill and practice. Reframing issues takes time.

Getting stuck on competition, a self-interest loop, can be devastating. Understanding that we can sacrifice short-term self-gain for long-term, mutual interests will be crucial in letting others compete while we choose a different path.

Personally, my default is to compete I must consciously think about the ripple effects of winning without focusing solely on my self-interest. It is challenging, and it is rewarding to move past competing.

So, what’s wrong with competing?

Competing is not always bad. We compete to survive and to gain money, fame, resources. To win our jobs and our partners, we compete. We must realize that there are situations where competing is more destructive than helpful. Everyone wants to win conflicts, and approaching conflict by competing does not result in a real, mutual win. A real win is one where everyone in the conflict comes out satisfied, to some extent, and this is not possible in the zero-sum game of competing.

Next Week: Compromising

Next week is part 5 of the five approaches to conflict series, where we focus on compromising. If you don’t want to go at it alone, remember that I’m always here to help.