Be Alert to Conflict Handling Styles.
Even without major cross cultural differences, there can be a substantial discrepancy between the way one believes one is behaving and the way others perceive it. Classic examples are disconnects between people with different styles of handling conflict. These often are classified in five groups: competitors, compromisers, collaborators, accommodators, and avoiders. First, knowing one’s own preferred mode of handling conflict can alert one to natural ways of reacting and can liberate one to try out different approaches. Understanding these modes leads to a better understanding of the negotiating counterparty, and also to an appreciation of how they might be perceiving us.
Test Drive the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.
While we will not have time to administer this test during this 50 minute period, it can be instructive to test oneself using the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.6 This series of questions takes an inventory of one’s preferred style of handling conflict. The basic premise is that people vary in the degree to which they seek to assert their own interests even at the expense of others (compete), or to cooperate and promote the interests of others (accommodate). Some prefer just to avoid conflict altogether, neither asserting their own interest in the particular dispute, nor satisfying the other’s interest. Others seek a moderated satisfaction of their own interests and those of the other, through the shared sacrifice of compromise. Yet others maximize the promotion of both their own interests and those of the other – through collaboration. Despite the apparent preference of negotiation theorists for collaboration – as the way to reach the pareto optimum – the TKCMI advises that each of these modes of handling conflict has its own utility and drawbacks. It is a fascinating study, worth investigating.
For our purposes, in addition the knowledge of self and other gained through familiarity with the TKCMI and its principles, there is an added insight into the way people of different mode preferences interact and understand each other. A classic example is the competitor matched with an avoider. Competitors like to seal deals. Avoiders prefer to take time. The result can often be an odd mix where competitors offer up a series of increasing offers, just to be frustrated by further delays by hesitant avoiders. Judgments can be added to the mix, with competitors thinking avoiders are not trying or not appreciating their efforts and avoiders thinking competitors are pushy and self-interested.
Try Being Proactive – Understand One’s Impact
Awareness of differences in styles and preferences can help with self understanding, as well. Beyond this, there are a host of behaviors and expressions that can have an impact on others and lead them to perceive us in manner different from the way we perceive ourselves. To the extent we are seeking to accomplish the goal of building an agreement that maximizes everyone’s interests, we need to encourage the other to feel safe making disclosures about their interests, and to feel it is in their own interest to maximize ours.