The 5 Conflict Management and Negotiation Strategies

Progress is impossible without conflict - and resolution - of some sort. Yet, we're never taught how to manage conflict - either in our personal or our professional lives. So we often get stuck in conflict situations without progress, wasting time, effort and emotional energy. The same situations occur in leadership teams, sometimes exacerbated by the same big or forceful ego's that allow us to play a bigger game.But a little bit of awareness can go a long way. One of the courses I run is called Conflict Management and Negototiation Strategies - a half-day experiential course in conflict management, covering topics like toxic language, managing aggression and emotions, and strategic listening.

In today's newsletter I want to take a part of the course and show how just awareness of conflict types - and how we can manage it - can help move past conflict to resolution.

Conflict - it takes 2 to tango

There are five strategies available for resolving conflict, based on the level of concern we have for ourselves, and the level of concern we have for the other party. We can plot this on a graph as follows:

This give us five strategies for conflict management and negotiation strategies - one in each quadrant and one in the center. There are situations where we want to use each one of these - but we have to be aware of the downsides as well.

Strategy 1: Compete

When you have a high concern for yourself and low concern for others, you want to win and you want other party to lose by taking away something from them. This is called the compete strategy and is appropriate when, for example, you're competing for market share.

The downside of the compete strategy is of course that there are winners and losers. It may be good for your business if you're winning, but it's less attractive when you're on the receiving end.

Within a leadership team this is a destructive strategy that has knock-on effects potentially throughout the whole business.

Strategy 2: Ignore

When you have a low concern for yourself, and a low concern for others, you don't really care about the outcome. This is the ignore strategy and is appropriate, for example, in handling spam email. You ignore the email and you don't care about the outcome.

You can choose to ignore conflict situations with colleagues as well - and sometimes that is appropriate because you just don't care how they feel or what they do as a result - but it is not a constructive strategy and has long-term negative effects.

Strategy 3: Sacrifice

When you have a low concern for yourself and a high concern for others you can employ the sacrifice strategy. This is appropriate when, for example, you're contributing to a charity.

Many organizations have an element of the sacrifice strategy in their business plans where they use the strength they've built to create strength in their communities or other worthwhile causes. (The name sacrifice is of course not quite accurate in this case.)

At the personal level the sacrifice strategy may look attractive for a short while, but sustained application leads to resentment and eventual blow-ups. Look out for this in your leadership team if a strong personality consistently overrules less forceful personalities.

Strategy 4: Collaborate

When you have a high concern for yourself and a high concern for others, the collaborate strategy is appropriate. This is the most productive and desirable of all the strategies, and is also the only strategy where creativity comes into play.

The collaborate strategy takes effort and sometimes facilitation but - in my experience - almost always results in better outcomes for all parties. And it works at both a business level and a personal level.

Strategy 5: Compromise

In the center of the graph is the compromise strategy. Both parties win something and both lose something. This strategy is appropriate in two cases:

  • when a trade-off is the only option left; or
  • when you need to rescue a bad situation.

Compromise often looks like collaboration, but often you're left with a somewhat bitter taste because you've had to give something up.

Putting this to use

The methodology and diagrams in this newsletter are enough to give your team a basic understanding of the five negotiation strategies available to us in conflict situations.

Conflict in this case does not have to "bad" conflict - it could be as simple as competing priorities on budget allocation. It also works in business as well as personal settings (although in the latter emotions tend to play a much stronger role).

Working with clients I am always impressed with how quickly teams adopt the principles - and naturally tend to gravitate to the collaboration quadrant. Most people want other people to succeed as well.

Previous article
Next article