Even in the most amicable of separations, there can be times where conflict rears its head. It is a natural and inevitable part of all human interaction. It sounds counter-intuitive but conflict can come with benefits. It can…
...increase our awareness of ourselves and others.
...promote adaption, change and constructive problem solving
...strengthen relationships and understanding of one another
...enhance our own personal development
...give us opportunities to step into our power and act to improve our lives
When embarking on your separation and setting about making the decisions that need to be made, a smart and savvy approach is to consider how:
· you respond to conflict – your conflict “style”; and
· how you can work with your conflict style to help, not hinder, you to reach agreements with your ex.
Identifying your conflict “style” enables you to identify the CONSTRUCTIVE behaviours you typically engage in when faced with conflict and also those that may be DESTRUCTIVE that you could benefit from modifying. Being aware of your conflict style gives you useful information to guide you when making choices about how to respond during disputes and when making decisions about any agreement. This may be when you are arguing with your ex over arrangements for your child's carseat right through to decisions during a mediation or collaborative process meeting. Equally, it is useful to be aware of your ex’s conflict style.
When faced with potential conflict, do you…
… run a mile from it, doing all you can to avoid it? You may well be an “Avoider”. Avoiders do just that – avoid conflict, often at any costs. You may find yourself apologising a lot. Being an avoider means you may effectively avoid conflict escalating but often at the expense of your needs being met. Avoidance can benefit relationships as you avoid the damage that conflict may bring to a relationship. However, under the surface, the problem can remain unresolved and dormant which may just build resentment that harms the relationship in any event.
…give in and let the other person get their way? You may be a “Yielder”. You don’t avoid the conflict altogether, but your tendency is to give in to the other person. In doing so, you prioritise the other person’s needs and wants over your own. Similar to avoidance, yielding may be a useful strategy when it is important to you to preserve a positive relationship (perhaps co parenting) for the future but, again, harmful resentment can build.
…fight to be “right”? You may be a “Competitor”. You get stuck into conflict, boots and all. Faced with disagreement, you will be determined to come out on top, be right and get what you set out to achieve. While this means you may often succeed in getting your needs met, this can be at the risk of missing out on opportunities for greater understanding and possibilities where you may both achieve what you want. This approach can do further damage to a relationship and risk alienating the other person.
…work to find a compromise between you? You may be a “Compromiser”. You try to find ways where you and the other person can both achieve something each out of the conflict. However, some researchers regard this as just both people yielding (with the risks that come with yielding) or undertaking lazy problem solving. It can mean you miss out on the chance to arrive at an understanding that maximises the outcome for each of you without risking the relationship between you.
…work to problem solve with the other person, being open to information and the other’s perspective? You may be a “Collaborator”. A collaborator uses open discussion and information sharing, consideration of a range of options to strive to find understandings, where possible, that satisfy both parties. This conflict style can engender respect and understanding but it can take a lot more effort than the other conflict styles and requires a willingness to deeply listen to other viewpoints.
Which of the above styles resonates with you?
Sometimes, how we think we approach conflict and how we actually do can be very different! Do a quick check in on this. Think of a recent conflict you experienced, perhaps with your ex but it could be with anyone. Write down words that come to mind that describe the conflict – how it felt, how you behaved, how you responded to the other person’s behaviour, what was driving you. Now consider those words against the different styles described above. What style best describes the approach you adopted in the conflict? How does this compare with how you initially thought your conflict style was?
Don’t worry if the style you adopted during the recent conflict is different to the style you thought you had! You are not alone in this. When I teach negotiation, I run a similar exercise with my students. We put coloured notes on a whiteboard to signify how we think we face conflict and then different coloured notes to describe our style in a recentdispute. The difference is very often mindblowing!
If you have identified your actual conflict style is different to the style you first thought you had, there is valuable information for you in this:
· What benefits were there for you in adopting the conflict style you used in your dispute?
· What disadvantages or costs to you were there in using this conflict style?
· You may decide you are 100% fine with the conflict style you used. Do you want to move your conflict style from that to the style you first identified or to another style?
· What may derail your efforts in doing that and how may you prevent that?
Knowing your conflict style is useful for helping you move through a dispute constructively, particularly when it comes to deciding on how to resolve the issue at hand. For example, whether you are in a text message showdown with your ex on an issue, sitting in your lawyer’s office considering a settlement or at mediation or collaborative process about to decide on an option, consider how your conflict style may be impacting on your responses. If you are moving towards agreeing, is this because you are leaning into your avoider or yielder conflict style? If you are striking back (fire with fire!) or feeling resistance to an agreement option, is this because you need to win and your competitor style is running rampant? Whatever the answer, press pause to consider whether your conflict style is appropriate for the situation and whether it is serving you and those you care about. If not, how you can change tack? The best thing about conflict styles is you are not stuck with just using the same one!