Exploring the Five Approaches to Conflict, Part 2: Accommodating

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 we are in conflict (friend, partner, coworker). We choose our battles. Today, we will explore accommodating, the approach that is most common in our politically correct culture and lives.

Approaches to conflict chart

Accommodating: defined

Accommodating in conflict looks good on paper. But, as we see in the chart above, accommodating shows a lack of concern for self. In work, we often default to “yes, please.” We accommodate our supervisors and coworkers to get a leg up. Accommodating often costs happiness. We imagine accommodating in conflict as being selfless, which is positive, but it also shows a lack of assertiveness.

Because of the high concern for others, accommodating is useful. In areas of low personal importance, accommodating makes sense. There is also a power dynamic at play, where someone with less power accommodates someone with more power more often than not.

Accommodating: when and how

Very often, we should accommodate. Accommodating is a huge part of our culture. And we can accommodate genuinely. What happens, though, is we tend to dislike when the other person accommodates because it comes off as not caring, or worse, inauthentic. Taking into account how severe the conflict is and whether accommodation is appropriate is important.

For example, in a personal relationship, it makes sense to accommodate our partner’s movie preference. Accommodation in that context signals that we care about the other person’s opinion or preference. In lower stakes environments, it’s easier to accommodate.

In another example, at work, especially if we manage others, we could accommodate our employees’ ideas as a teaching moment. Instead of shutting down someone for a crazy idea, why not let that person learn from a mistake and guide or coach them through it?

If our work conflict is with someone with a lot of power, we might accommodate their perspectives because we understand that not accommodating could lead to something personally detrimental.

In these examples, we must decide how high-stakes our conflict is to find what type of conflict approach we should use. Making the wrong choice and competing when we should accommodate in a high-stakes situation could result in a huge personal loss. 

Be aware of interests

The accommodator’s trademark is caring much more about the someone else’s interests than their own. Does this sound like you? It sure sounds like me and a lot of people I know. So what should we do when we really care about the conflict?

It’s easy to fall into competing, an approach to conflict that I will explore later. When your self-interest is really high, like in situations involving wealth or pride, it’s hard to remember how important it is to have concern for others. There is a way to manage high self-interest and high concern for others: through collaboration.

When stakes are high, and a lot is on the line, its easy to panic. We want to please everyone else, but sometimes we need to focus on ourselves. Remember that when your personal interests are at stake, there is always an opportunity to look out for number one AND help out someone else. 

How do I compete AND accommodate?

Collaborate. Collaboration. There are many strategies that we can use to get our conflict to collaboration, where we have a high self-interest and high interest of others. When we reframe the way we think about accommodating during conflict, we see areas where we can self-advocate.

No one wants to always accommodate just as no one wants to always compete. The sweet spot is in the middle. And it takes practice. Like we discussed above, start practicing in low-stakes situations. Worried about where to have dinner? What movie to see? We might have strong feelings about these, but they are pretty menial. Think about how to find areas where you now accommodate but wish you didn’t. Start there.

Next Week: Collaborating

Next week is part 3 of the five approaches to conflict series, focusing on collaborating. Figuring out these approaches to conflict is challenging. If you want help, schedule an appointment with me. I’m here to help!