5 Approaches to Conflict

Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationship. It’s extremely valuable for developing intimacy and strengthening connection.

It can also be destructive. Conflict frightens us because it exposes our underbellies. It makes us vulnerable, tearing us from our carefully constructed world of romance.

Conflict is not something that needs to be fixed as much as it is something that needs to be resolved. When it arises, conflict feels a bit like a call to arms. And there are certain preferences each of us have for how to do battle. Through previous experience, upbringing, personality, and a host of other factors, we have developed a strategy for how to engage in conflict.

All five of these approaches to conflict are valuable and have their place. Likewise, all five have their disadvantages. While we all lean naturally toward one or two of these five, we are all capable of taking a different approach. By knowing which approach is our factory setting, we can understand our tendencies and make better choices about how we behave and what we say while resolving conflict.

1. The Boxer

The first approach to conflict is the fighter. Ready to compete. Gloves taped securely on. “Cut me, Mick.” These people are looking to throw punches until only one is left standing.

The Boxer mentality is that there can be only one winner in the battle of conflict and it sure as heck is gonna be me.

This can be valuable when something of great significance is on the line. But it can be disastrous if the boxer gets so caught up in winning they forget to love the people in front of them.

2. The Bower

The second approach is one of accommodation. The Bower takes a submissive approach to conflict resolution, stepping aside to let the other have their way.

A Bower often casts themselves as the false hero – taking ‘the higher ground’ to avoid competitive conflict. This can sometimes be helpful. But sometimes the bower is passive-aggressive, keeping account of the secret wrong and stifling their voice.

The Bower can be a beautiful conflict resolver in situations where the disagreement is relatively insignificant.

3. The Broker

The third approach to conflict is one of compromise. The Broker works like a lawyer negotiating a plea deal. They realize that conflict can often be resolved by a little give and take.

Brokers have to be careful not to become manipulators. They also must be aware that compromise to resolve conflict and compromise that just puts conflict off for another day are two very different things.

The Broker’s approach is valuable because it hits at the very heart of conflict – allowing each to have a voice while allowing each the chance to sacrifice for the greater good of the community/relationship.

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