Conflict is bound to take place and can be frustrating and uncomfortable. During the divorce process, there are many issues that can cause disputes. It is important to recognize that individuals have their own specific wants, needs, ideas, and opinions that they project and sometimes they complement each other and other times they don’t, and tensions develop. Controversy naturally arises from arguments over values, motivations, desires, feelings, or ideas and triggers strong emotions. Disagreements are based on a person’s perceptions of a situation, not necessarily to an objective view of the facts. How one manages opposition has a direct impact on the resolution which makes it essential to comprehend various conflict resolution styles.
Emotional awareness is the most critical element in understanding yourself and how you deal with challenging circumstances like the dissolution of marriage. If you aren’t comfortable with your emotions or unable to manage them in times of stress, you will be inhibited from resolving disputes successfully. Many individuals going through divorce ignore or try to deflect strong emotions which lead to irreparable rifts, resentments, disappointments, and discomfort. The ability to handle differences of opinion depends on being connected to your feelings and being conscious of your moment to moment emotional experiences, word usage, body language, and tone of voice. Becoming more mindful of the styles of conflict management and how to instinctively respond to controversy can lead to a more effective and efficient solutions.
According to Thomas-Kilman’s Conflict Mode Instrument*, which provides insight into an individual’s typical response to disagreements, there are 5 major styles of conflict management to be aware of. The various modes reflect differing levels of assertiveness and cooperation, and all individuals are capable of using the 5 conflict-handling modes depending on their personal predispositions and the requirements of a particular situation.
- Accommodating: Individuals with this conflict management style are unassertive and cooperative. They tend to set aside their own wants and needs and focus on those of others. They are interested in preserving the peace and maintaining the most harmonious circumstances possible at the expense of their goals and desires.
- Competing: Individuals with this conflict management style are assertive and uncooperative. They tend to have a headstrong personality. They take a firm stance, are positioned based, and unmoved by the perspectives of others. Additionally, they are usually aggressive with an action driven approach to tension.
- Avoiding: Individuals with this conflict style are unassertive and uncooperative. They avoid conflict altogether. They tend to be unassertive while diplomatically sidestepping an issue or withdrawing from it for a period of time or completely.
- Compromising: Individuals with this conflict management style are moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. They attempt to find a solution that will partially please all parties. It is an agree to disagree approach. They are able to walk away from challenging situations with only some wants, needs, ideas, and opinions being met.
- Collaborating: Individuals with this conflict management style are assertive and cooperative. They attempt to work with the other parties to identify a solution that satisfies everyone’s overall concerns. It is a win-win approach. Negative feelings tend to be minimized with this style.
People, particularly couples who are getting divorced, have their own unique approach to challenging situations. Identifying and being aware of which conflict management style best suits your needs is crucial. Individuals always have a choice as to how they want to approach differences of opinion. The most successful management conflict style reinforces listening to what is being said, focuses on the present, makes resolution a priority rather than winning, picks battles carefully, has a willingness to forgive, and knows when to let go. Dealing with disagreements effectively requires managing stress while remaining alert and calm so that verbal and nonverbal communication can be accurately read and interpreted. It also requires learning to control your emotions and behavior so that needs can be communicated without the use of intimidation, threats, or punishment. Understanding your preferred way of responding to disputes together with emotional awareness increases the ability to react in constructive ways.
Conflict is a natural part of our interactions with others because no two individuals have exactly the same expectations and desires. Disputes, especially during the divorce process, are not always negative and can be an opportunity for growth and improvement. It is inevitable that individuals will disagree and when this confrontation occurs, it needs to be handled as it arises in the most effective manner possible. When disputes are mismanaged, they can cause a negative ripple effect. The key is not to shy away from differences of opinion but to learn how to resolve them. When individuals practice recognizing their preferred conflict management style combined with an increased ability to manage their feelings appropriately, they can learn to examine others involved in the dispute with compassion and understanding. This process can lead to creative problem solving, respect, and consideration which is advantageous for all parties involved.
Jennifer Warren Medwin, MS, CDC
Supreme Court of Florida Family Mediator and Certified Marital Mediator