In general, we all have a “go to” conflict style when we’re not our best selves.  When we are our best selves we’re grounded, committed to a resolution, and we don’t take things personally. Common Conflict Styles:

  • Get defensive (fight): can look like stepping forward, getting louder, using defensive statements, blaming others, indignation, innocent “who me?,” getting off topic or getting flustered and blustery with large hand and arm gestures.
  • Shut down (flight): can look like stepping back, crossing arms, trying to melt into the wallpaper, “lights are on but no one’s home” look in your eyes, looking down, avoiding eye contact, waiting for it to be over, checking out, tuning out, closed body language, walking away, silence.
  • Passive aggressive (combo): can look like having a whole witty, snarky conversation in your head about what you would say in response, rolling your eyes, steely stare, huffing “whatever,” short interjections of sarcasm, saying one thing and meaning another, under the breath comments, closed body language.

Some are consistent in their style while others play on both ends of the spectrum depending on the relationship context – boss, peer, co-worker, direct report, family, love relationship, friend, neighbor.   If you’re not sure what your “go-to” style is, just ask those who work with you on a regular basis, they’ll tell you.

On rare occasions, your style may not be obvious.  One of my favorite clients has a defensive style, however it’s very sneaky because it looks different than the typical wild eyed or innocent “who me?” version.  He uses questioning and asking for more information as a way to deflect the heart of the matter.  This is misleading, as asking questions and requesting more information usually demonstrates curiosity, humility and a desire to learn–which are also true of him.  In this case though, it’s a secret agent ninja style that looks good from afar but up close is really a method to avoid conflict.

I would suggest the more emotionally intelligent we are, the more ninja our conscience is in hiding our fears, insecurities and blind spots.

As a leader, your awareness of your “go to” conflict behavior gives you the option to choose a different response.  If you’re clueless, your blind spot can terrorize your organization.

Knowing the style of your team members is mission critical for knowing when you’ve lost someone in a conversation.  In that moment, your communication is going through a warped distortion filter.  Stop the conversation.  Pause.  Look them in the eye.  And say, “No one is attacking you. I really just want to figure out a solution that works for both of us.”  Let them take a deep breath and see if they can come back and be present.  If so, regroup, starting with your intention.  If not, reschedule.

For more insight and lots of practical advice on conflict management and resolution, be sure to check out Culture Works!