Growing up, I was taught to avoid conflictgirls don’t fight! Later in life, I started arguing when I saw an opportunity to win and avoided confrontation when the odds were against me. But over the years I’ve slowly changed my opinion of conflict. I saw over and over that when things got really bad, people got motivated to change the status quo. Conflict can be a huge opportunity if we take the right approach.

Based on the ideas of Thomas-Kilmann, there are 5 conflict styles. I see them as options you can choose from when you are in different conflicts. Here they are:

COMPETING – I win, you lose

This one is about pursuing your own interests – I’m right and you are wrong! A great opportunity to take this approach is when you are standing up for your rights or for the rights of others. Choose your battles wisely, though, since there is a thin line between gaining respect and gaining enemies.


Whenever you are on a team and there is a conflict, it’s a great idea to point out the common goals. Work together to find a solution that meets the needs and concerns of various parties. Do not choose this approach in a crisis situation. Setting up a meeting and looking for a consensus may be way more risky that acting fast and taking an action.

COMPROMISING – We both lose some

If you cannot satisfy everybody, you may need to start negotiating. Look for a solution that is acceptable but only partially satisfying for all parties. Try to balance the items people are willing to give up. Watch out for solutions where just for the sake of being fair nobody gets anything they want.

AVOIDING – Nobody wins, nobody loses

When emotions run high, it may be a good idea to postpone the discussion or withdraw from it. “Let’s sleep on this and talk some more tomorrow.” But be careful, because avoiding may allow the issue to grow out of proportions. Don’t avoid conflict just because you don’t know how to deal with it. In that case, ask around and get some support.

ACCOMMODATING – You win, I lose

There are times where you should seriously consider neglecting your own interests to satisfy the interests of others. Accommodating shows others you are willing to let them shine, step back, or admit your mistakes. But watch out, or you may become a martyr, a victim, someone who constantly sacrifices for others. And this approach will eventually turn against you.

As you can see, there is no right or wrong approach. It really depends on the conflict.

Your strength depends on your flexibility.

The more you are able to deliberately choose your behavior (instead of reacting), the stronger you will be in any conflict situation.

As I’ve mentioned, conflicts are great motivators for change. When people feel uncomfortable, they want out, of the situation. They want things to get better. As a leader, you have a great opportunity to use conflicts and crisis effectively as fuel for change in your organization. Some leaders even prolong the sense of conflict to make sure the change really happens.

And this applies to your internal conflicts as well. When something bothers you, you have a choice to set it aside and see if it goes away, attack it by pushing yourself one direction or other, or you may want to listen carefully. Every conflict is your opportunity to learn something about you. Don’t miss that chance.


Henrieta Riesco is a founder of Intentional Career. She is all about meaningful conversation to empower professionals on their career journey. After experiences of being a teacher and a corporate trainer in Slovakia, a customer advocate and a training consultant for 10+ years at Microsoft, she is comfortable with calling herself a Career Coach. You can follow Henrieta via Twitter, or via her blog.