Our hectic life is always connected with some conflict situations. Some of them are minor and easy to cope with and through them we become stronger. They prompt us to some changes and gaining at times painful experience we grow. As Mary Parker Follett put nearly sixty years ago “one ought not to conceive conflict as a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process whereby socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment for all concerned” (1, 17). Still, there are conflicts which solution requires much time and nerves and to solve them one should stick to some definite effective method or strategy.
When having a conflict, people behave in some style which social psychologists call ‘conflict style’ and defining it we can sometimes even predict the result of the conflict. The same Mary Parker Follett strongly recommends three of them: domination, whereby there is a victory of one side over the other (a win-lose situation); compromise, whereby each side gives up something in the process (a lose-lose situation); and integration, whereby each side refocuses their efforts so that neither side loses anything and in fact each gains (a win-win situation) (1, 47).
She also believed that “domination should be avoided at all costs” and in case of compromise used both parties of the conflict would be happy and this method is the only acceptable.
However, we think this attitude is quite disputable and will try to highlight all pros and cons of each of the stated above conflict styles that is compromise and competition ones.
But before we get down to delving into conflict resolution it should be mentioned
That circumstances, atmosphere and people themselves involved in the conflict play an immense role and there are cannot be a universal method of conflict settling. As Bailey warned us: “Any administrator who assumes that he can use the same technique or style in resolving conflicts that emanate respectively from subordinate conflicts, superordinate conflicts and lateral conflicts is either a genius or a fool” (2, 234).
And a common rule is trying not to be biased or it will be a serious obstacle on your way to conflict resolution.
So, when people (either individuals or parties) start to negotiate with a view to settle the conflict they already have their own opinions on the issue and will, for sure, hold to them. Two prevailing approaches to conflict resolution are (as it was said) compromise and competition. While the first implies both parties look for a mutual agreement and the so called ‘win-win’ solution the second can lead only to the situation when one wins and the second loses. But compromise method should be used only when dealing with minor standing points and when objectives are not very important (so giving in sometimes would not influence you greatly and your pride would be the only one to suffer).
But crucial issues leave no alternative for bargaining and consequently clashing parties must choose competitive strategy to reach their aims. This method certainly does not foresee any collaboration or establishment of trustworthy relationships, quite the contrary it increases animosity undermines credence.
However, one must keep in mind that any negotiation has to lead to the best decision and to some extent both compromising and competition are necessary. This means that “[n]egotiators must learn, in part from each other, what is jointly possible and desirable” (3, 29).
How a party chooses to resolve a conflict depends on many things and a noted social psychologist Morton Deutsch has even developed several theories about factors that have impact on the person’s approach to conflict management. Among the most important factors he names “the nature of the dispute and the goals each side seeks to achieve as a result of it”. Goals which are set in the competition situations he defines as ‘negatively interdependent goals’ as the victory of one side rejects the possibility to gain goals for the other one.
Competition style incites to using either psychological or even physical means of persuasion. This in turn may worsen the situation and intensify the conflict.
Yet, competition is not so bad as it may seem at first glance and everyone knows a vivid example of competition management style that works without any harm for sides such as sports competition. Here it encourages self-perfection and also all sports events have winners and those who lose but strict rules ensure fair play and unsuccessful parties can try themselves another time with the same chances to win.
As to the compromise style, although it creates a vision of a “win-win” situation but in fact it makes every part win and lose something. It is like the ant colony that tries to settle a conflict on who gets the first bite of the bread crumb that everyone claims. The compromising ant decides to give everyone share of the crumb. After dividing it into 50,000 pieces, everyone gets something. It is barely visible and not satisfying to anyone. But, since all of them got a bite, no one can rightly complain about it (4). Often this method is used by people who are not inclined to do something for problem resolution or are not sure of themselves. Compromise may be regarded as an attempt to collaborate but which was not brought to a close.
To put it in a nutshell, it should be stated that conflict is a common feature of every day’s life (both private and social). Its consequences vary from some positive changes and progression to gap in relationships and, on a larger scale, destruction of social organization. The result of the conflict depends on how professionally it was managed and the standard, individual cases need individual decisions.
Follett, M.P. (1925). Constructive conflict. In H.C. Metcalf (Ed.), Scientific Foundations of Business Administration. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, 1926, 17-47.
Bailey, S.K. (1971). Preparing administrators for conflict resolution. Educational Record, 52, 233-235.
David Lax and James K. Sebenius, The Manager as Negotiator: Bargaining for Cooperation and Competitive Gain (New York: The Free Press, 1986), 29.
Styles of Managing Conflict. Retrieved on August 20, 2005 from