When I was a kid, l would barricade myself in my room and turn the stereo on full-blast so I couldn’t hear my parents bicker. It had a tremendous (negative) impact on me throughout my childhood. And even after I grew up and moved out, they continued to bicker in front of me. And then, a very wise woman (my mother-in-law, Barbara) explained to me that my parents’ bickering was simply their style of resolving conflict. What an insightful revelation! Although it still made me uncomfortable, I finally understood that people have their own styles of resolving conflict. That understanding has served me well as a Mediator.
If you answer the following three questions, you might learn a bit about your own conflict resolution style:
Question 1: Your friends want to meet at a steak house for dinner and you’re a vegetarian. Do you: (a) push to get your point made, or (b) believe your personal choices are not worth arguing about?
Question 2: You have engaged in a heated debate about abortion. Do you: (a) show the other person the logic and benefits of your position, or (b) say what is necessary to avoid unnecessary tension?
Question 3: For the third time this month, you find yourself arguing with your partner about where to go on vacation. Do you: (a) state your wishes and try to get them met at all costs, or (b) let your partner take responsibility for planning the vacation?
It should be obvious that if you primarily chose the (a) response, your style of resolving conflict is to confront the issue head-on (fight), and if you primarily chose the (b) response, your style is to pretty much avoid the conflict (flight).
That being said, there are other conflict resolution styles besides fight or flight. For example, sometimes people resolve conflict by compromising. They figure out the middle ground and reach an appropriate settlement. Other people resolve conflict by accommodating. They decide that a particular issue isn’t really all that important, so they let it go. This is not an all-or-nothing proposition, either. Your personal style may be to mostly confront issues head-on, or you may usually be a conflict avoider. While my personal conflict resolution style is generally compromising (I’m a mediator), sometimes I find myself accommodating as well (I’m a peacemaker).
In divorce mediation, understanding the conflict resolution styles of my clients helps me to better help them.
And here’s the thing: there is no right or wrong way to resolve conflict. What is important is to understand your personal style as you’re dealing with a specific situation. When my mother-in-law pointed out to me that my parents’ style of resolving conflict was to bicker until one or the other caved (usually due to exhaustion), not only did I stop getting upset about it, I vowed that I would never adopt that style in my own relationships. Yet, my parents were married for 64 years and I’ve been married three times! See? No right or wrong!