Trying to Adapt (your conflict style)

Many find it challenging to constantly read and adapt in their workplace and personal lives. With so many people with so many styles of working and conflicting, how do you keep up?

It is important to stay adaptive when dealing with conflict. There has been a growing body of research in recent years to discuss the impact of having chameleon personality and the harms associated with this style. For this article, I am not going to focus on changing like a chameleon; instead, I am going to discuss what it means to adapt to your environment.

What is a chameleon?

A chameleon personality type mimics those around them. In the context of conflict, this person would become angry at someone who is angry. This person would fail to showcase his or her personality and conflict style when interacting with others. Instead, this person finds benefit in simply adapting and mimicking those with whom he or she conflicts. The emotional toll that mimicry takes on the human mind is high. Instead of mimicking, there is an opportunity to adapt. This subtle, but important distinction is important when considering what to do while in conflict. Adapting involves understanding the circumstances of the situation around you to make the best decision in the moment.

For example, when in conflict with a romantic partner, adapt to the level of emotion in the conversation. If a romantic partner has high emotions, and you maintain low emotions, the conflict’s outcome will not go as well for you if you keep up higher energy. Similarly, if you are in conflict with a boss or supervisor, instead of matching anger with anger, it makes sense to adapt to a more placating style of conflict management with the understanding that this is a high leverage situation for your career. The caveat to that example is that if your manager says that he or she desires the type of angry feedback and excitement when in conflict, it makes sense to match that level of emotion.

What is the difference between mimicry and adaptation?

The biggest difference between mimicry and adaptation is the level of investment. When mimicking, the person in conflict mimics because he or she thinks it is the best way to resolve the conflict. Without taking into consideration his or her own conflict type and style, this person forces the issue. Often, the result of mimicking is a fake outcome. If you and I are in conflict, and you mimic me, I might think that my style of conflict is great because you reinforced my behavior.

At the same time, I might also find what you are doing as disingenuous because I have seen you interact with others before, and this version of you does not seem real. Through adaptation, I get a better sense of your passion and your emotion, which at the end of the day, is what resolves conflict. Even if you are an avoider, if you avoid with fervor, I have a better understanding of what your feelings on the topic are. Even if you do not care as passionately about the conflict as I do, showing some emotion will go a long way in helping to resolve the conflict. An emotionless avoider might come off as arrogant, or worse, unengaged. It is tough to offer concrete advice for this other than just saying to think twice about mimicking someone while in conflict.

Adapting to conflict

Instead of breaking down each conflict style, it makes more sense to talk about adapting to conflict in general. The first step is to understand what the other person’s conflict style is. Without rehashing the last few articles, let us talk in generalities. Avoiders and competers are easy to find, but what about the other conflict styles? There are a few key areas to acknowledge when examining what type of conflict style someone is using. Specifically, looking at body language, tone of voice, eye contact, posture, and speech rate are important to figure out where someone is coming from.

If the person in front of you is sweating, speaking quickly, darting eyes, and hunched over, it might be that person is using a competing conflict style. If someone is leaning back, talking softly and slowly, being fidgety, and avoiding eye contact, that person might be avoiding the conflict. In the middle, examining some of these key markers can be the difference between determining whether someone is collaborating with your or compromising. How well is the person listening to what you say? Do you have authority? How is your authority impacting the conflict? There is so much to unpack, that it is impossible to do it in one post.

Resolving your conflict

Overall, pay attention. Listen. Regardless of your conflict style, adapting to someone else’s style can resolve a conflict. Make sure to use the key components of conflict resolution. Show a bit of passiveness towards someone who is aggressive and you get bulldozed. Try a bit of aggression towards a passive person, and that person shuts down. Meeting someone where he or she is can be challenging, but you can do this feat with intentional practice.

Watch out for all the signs mentioned above, and try to learn through non-conflict communication how someone is. There is a chance that the person in conflict with you is adapting or mimicking as well. Can you call that out? What will the result of that be? Getting to know someone is the easiest way to understand what conflict style that person is using. Once you know, you can adapt your style to resolve the conflict. Within conflict styles, always try to adapt as close to the person with whom you are in conflict as possible. Do not avoid to a competer. It is simple as that.

Next time

Instead of promising an article next week, I will just say next time. I will start a new conflict series of situations: workplace, personal relationships, and one-time conflicts. This series will roll out over the course of the next 6-8 weeks. Until then!