Do You Seek Conflict, or Avoid It?

While some of us enjoy a lively debate with colleagues and others prefer to suppress our feelings over disagreements, we all struggle with conflict at work. Every day we navigate an office full of competing interests, clashing personalities, limited time and resources, and fragile egos. Sure, we share the same overarching goals as our colleagues, but we don’t always agree on how to achieve them. We work differently. We rub each other the wrong way.

When it comes to conflict, there are two types of people: those who avoid it and those who seek it out.

Seekers are people who value directness and honesty more so over harmony and relationships. So they’re willing to tell you exactly what they think. They’re not worried about ruffling feathers. They really just don’t care if things get heated. In fact, they might even– hence the term “seeker”– they might even seek out conflict or escalate it when they start to engage in it.

Conflict avoiders, on the other hand, tend to value harmony and relationships. So they care a lot about team cohesion, about getting along with their coworkers. And they’re willing to sacrifice directness and honesty in order to make sure those relationships stay intact.

How can you deal with conflict at work in a way that is both professional and productive–where it improves both your work and your relationships? You start by understanding whether you generally seek or avoid conflict, identifying the most frequent reasons for disagreement, and knowing what approaches work for what scenarios. Then, if you decide to address a particular conflict, you use that information to plan and conduct a productive conversation.

The tactics that work when two conflict seekers go head-to-head are different than tactics required when two avoiders are dancing around each other. To resolve conflict at work, you need to start by knowing your own tendencies and by telling which kind of person you’re dealing with.

Summing-up: Seekers or avoiders. Neither style is better, and your default depends on a lot of things: your past experiences with conflict, the conventions of the culture you’re from or work in, organizational context, and even gender norms. Knowing which style you gravitate toward will help you make a conscious choice about how to address a disagreement.

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