Disagreeing with co-workers is inevitable in any job. It’s normal and even encouraged in some situations to clash with colleagues in order to get the best work done. But not all of us have the right tools to do it thoughtfully. Some of us can get aggressive, manipulative or all too silent.
How people work through conflict reflects a foundational choice in their priorities, said Lawrese Brown, founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company. “Our approach to conflict has to also do with whether or not we are looking to protect a relationship, or we’re looking to secure the result,” Brown told HuffPost.
No single approach to conflict is inherently best. Your preferred arguing style may have advantages that make you successful at your job, but it could also lead you to alienate the people around you or even undermine your career. See which conflict style fits you best:
1) The Competitor
Competitors have an “assertive and uncooperative” arguing style, according to behavioural scientists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, developers of a well-known conflict resolution assessment tool.
For example, competitors may one-up their colleagues and frame others’ ideas as their own to get ahead, even if it hurts personal relationships, Brown said.
“They get into conflict, and it’s like ‘This is me or you,’” she said. “What’s helpful is that you’re going to get someone who is forthright. What’s not helpful is that in their assertiveness and often in their aggressiveness, there is a dominance they have over other people.”
As a result, co-workers may give in to competitors because they feel there is no room to negotiate. Competitors may think, “I’m getting the results I want, and I’m doing well at my job,” but their conflict style can sacrifice working relationships, which are critical to making ideas happen.
“Any way you could avoid working with that person in the future, unless you absolutely have to, you will,” Brown said.
If this style describes you, Brown suggests asking yourself, “Is there a better solution here than the one I’m suggesting? Someone may have a better idea to get to the outcome.”
2) The Collaborator
Collaborators aim to reach a consensus. “People feel heard, which is great. Everyone’s ideas are taken into account,” Brown said.
However, she cautioned against idealising collaboration as the best mode of conflict. At their worst, collaborators can become manipulative. Because they want everyone to feel as if they’ve won, collaborators may not be transparent about the realities of how everyone’s input will be used, or the budget or resource constraints involved.
When you are a collaborator, you may make promises you cannot keep, and that ultimately breaks people’s trust.
“Usually, agreeing but then not committing means you still aren’t really getting your way. You are just causing a delay in whatever this thing is that you are either railing against, or the thing you really want to see happen,” said Lara Hogan, author of “Resilient Management” and co-founder of the management consulting company Wherewithall.
Collaborators should ask themselves if they are really setting an appropriate expectation or if they just want to see others accept the outcome the collaborator wants but hasn’t shared, Brown said.
3) The Accommodator
Accommodators are willing to sacrifice or minimise their own needs to get through conflicts. As a result, colleagues feel supported by them, even when arguing. But accommodators can become pushovers if they become too obliging, as Brown talks about in her e-book “A Guide To Self-Advocacy,” in which she outlines this conflict style.
“Accommodating relies on continuously yielding to others, but others’ appreciation of you for carrying more than your fair share can transform into an expectation that you always do more than required,” she writes.
If you find yourself accommodating too much to get through conflict, try saying, “That doesn’t work for me,” Brown advises in her e-book, writing, “This phrase prevents you from saying an outright no, and allows others to consider how you’re being slighted in the solution.”
4) The Dealmaker
Dealmakers will bargain to get results. They concentrate less on amplifying what’s possible and more focused on using transactions to get through conflicts. At heart, they are compromisers who think along the lines of, “Here’s what I have. Here’s what I know you have. Neither of us can get exactly what we want, so where can we meet in the middle? This needs to get done,” Brown said.
At their worst, dealmakers’ drive to reach a conclusion may prompt them to be less than honest about what any concessions mean in the long term, such as “30 days from now, we’re going to double your workload,” Brown said.
If you’re arguing with a dealmaker, make sure to read the fine print on their offers.
5) The Up-And-Over Arguer
People with this personality type do not address conflicts directly with a colleague. Instead, they go above them to someone with more power, Hogan said. Hogan said up-and-over arguers may be motivated by the belief that raising problems to superiors will gain them clout and power. Sometimes, they’re motivated by urgency.
“They just want to get this problem solved right away,” Hogan said. “They think that getting a person with more power involved will get them a speedier resolution.“
No one enjoys finding out that a co-worker has gone behind their back, though. This tactic breaks down trust between colleagues and often backfires. There are obviously instances in which escalation is warranted, such as a toxic office environment, “but usually, the up-and-over does not get you your desired outcome,” Hogan said. “It just drags it out and involves people with much more power that shouldn’t be spending time on your disagreement.”
6) The Conflict-Avoidant Arguer
At best, a conflict-avoidant arguer protects working relationships through their ability to let conflicts go. “On one hand, you can say that they minimise, but these are also people who will say, ‘OK that’s not a big deal.’ Sometimes in work environments, that’s a helpful attitude to take,” Brown said.
But their unwillingness to engage also means their valuable input is never heard.
“I often see people avoid conflict in the workplace either because they believe it will cause more problems ― which, to be honest, it can ― [or] due to a lack of investment in the situation,“ Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, a psychologist and executive coach, told HuffPost. “However, there are times where your contribution and your voice need to be heard to help shift the thinking or enhance the perspective.”
There is no assertiveness in avoidance. “You ever heard of someone who are like, ‘I was thinking something, but I didn’t say it’? These are those people,” Brown said. Sometimes, avoidance may look like silence when a work conflict arises. “They are looking for an escape route. They are just shutting down entirely,” Hogan said.
If you find yourself in conflict with someone who is disengaging from the argument, ask questions to identify what they need so you can start to move forward.
7) The Devil’s Advocate
Colleagues who play devil’s advocate usually argue against a position merely for the sake of argument and not in good faith.
“They might come up with fake examples, lots of hypotheticals, lots of what-if statements that really aren’t related to what you’re talking about or don’t have any applications in the real world,” Hogan said. “Sometimes it’s a time-waster, but often it’s just this person hasn’t figured out why they don’t agree with what’s happening.”
If you find yourself talking in circles with a devil’s advocate, ask them something like, “It’s clear that our current agreement doesn’t feel satisfactory, or you’re not on board with it yet. What’s going on underneath that?” Hogan said.
That way, you give them the time and space to reflect on barriers they may have but have yet to articulate.