How to Teach Conflict Management Styles (2022)

Group of high school students working on conflict management activity

This blog post includes unit and lesson plan strategies for teaching high school students about conflict management styles.

Building Awareness

Awareness of how our conflict management styles contribute to how we communicate in conflict helps gain understanding and promote desired changes in our relationships.

Teaching high school students is a great time to introduce conflict management style lessons in unit planning and lesson planning. Through teaching content about conflict management styles, teachers help prepare young people for life.

Teenagers + Conflict

Everyday conflicts and stress can stimulate and trigger youth to express themselves in unhealthy ways. Outbursts in class, bullying, teasing, and even fighting can leave students and teachers feeling helpless. In addition, conflict changes interpersonal relationships, and we must become aware of different conflict management styles to improve communication and enhance relationships for positive results in future conflicts.

As adults, we not only have to deal with the stress of managing our own emotions but also the emotions of others. We have a voice to share our feelings and to speak out, but teens do not. They are trying to navigate adolescence without having the maturity to manage their negative emotions and develop their social skills.

Teaching Students Healthy Ways of Expression

Being taught healthy and nonviolent ways of expressing strong emotions will help young people understand why unhealthy ways of expressing emotion, like bullying, are not worth the risk. By teaching nonviolent methods of conflict resolution, we can help young people understand the long-term ramifications of bullying: it isolates people and causes harm to self-esteem. By promoting peaceful ways of managing the negative aspects of life, we can help prevent students from bullying behaviors that only lead to adverse outcomes for everyone involved.

Tapping Into Potential

Everyone has the potential to become a leader in the classroom, and teachers are more than just educators. Our goal is to help our students unlock their potential and prepare them for the real world. This lesson plan for conflict management styles will help to achieve that goal.

Ways to Teach Conflict Resolution Skills in High School

Conflict resolution skills like learning about the conflict management styles taught in our high school classroom help students develop strong social skills, socio-emotional development, and life skills.

Styles Of Conflict Management: How They Influence Our Communication

We all know that communication is key, especially in our relationships. It is essential to know that how we communicate can be just as important. The style of conflict management we use will influence our communication. And while there is no one “right” way to manage conflict, understanding the different types can help us find a method that works best for us and our situation.

What are the Styles of Conflict Management?

While there are many ways to resolve conflict, we tend to fall into one of five conflict management styles. Each style has some positive aspects but also some significant negatives. As individuals, we may use more than one style depending on the situation, the relationship, and our feelings and needs.

The first step in dealing with conflict is to figure out HOW we would like to manage it. Each of the five different styles of conflict management has a different approach. The important thing is to find a style that works for us and our relationships.

Before we dive into the styles, I want to mention the importance of managing our emotions. You will notice an emphasis on emotions in the conflict styles below.

Managing Emotions

Emotions are part of a human’s behavior, but not all human behavior is about emotions. You cannot “read” other people’s emotions just by looking at their faces. Emotions do not make us irrational. Emotions will be present without influencing our reasoning.

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize Emotional Intelligence (EQ), there are five critical elements to it:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.

Emotional intelligence is a concept used in various theories, with slightly differing definitions. According to Goleman, emotional competency is the foundation of good leadership. He claims that the most influential leaders can understand themselves, set goals, motivate themselves and others, and express themselves effectively. He stresses that “intelligence” is “emotional intelligence” and that people who are successful in life are those who have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is based on the idea that our emotions can provide us with data about the effectiveness of our behavior. As a result, it gives us the ability to control our actions, make better decisions, fulfill our potential, and improve our relationships. Skills for the effectiveness of our behavior are acquired and rely on our mental competencies. Mental competencies include emotional identification, emotional management, emotional understanding, and emotional projection.

Emotional intelligence is not intelligence in the traditional sense of the word; it is not measured like standard IQ tests.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions and their underlying causes, access and generate feelings to assist thought, understand emotions and knowledge, and reflectively regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth. Our emotions play an essential role in how we view the world, how we relate to others, how we cope with challenges, how successful we are in life, and how, every day, we can wake up and choose to be happy.

The following video explains Emotional Intelligence:

EQ Training

Emotional intelligence is a hot topic these days, especially as more and more research points to high EQ as a critical personal skill for success in life, work, and relationships. EQ includes a combination of personal skills, self-awareness, and self-management. For example, if a person is naturally optimistic, they possess self-awareness. Still, if they can’t control their tendency to get too negative too often, they don’t have good self-management skills.

The tenets of emotional intelligence are that emotions can strengthen through training. Emotional intelligence can be developed by learning to improve self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.

EQ and Conflict Management

Emotional intelligence has a lot to do with our ability to handle stress effectively and maintain good relationships. The challenge is how to improve our emotional intelligence. The ability to enhance our emotional intelligence is for our purposes, but we also use it to empathize and consider the needs of others. It is an essential component of personal and professional life. Using strategies to recognize and interpret the emotions of self and others facilitates more effective communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

The following thoughts give examples of building emotional intelligence:

  • Understand feelings. When we are aware of what we’re feeling, we can begin to work on altering our reactions and responses. Practice being aware of emotions at the moment they arise. Be present in what is going on around you.
  • Make it a priority to manage emotions from a conscious place of calm, control, and centeredness. It’s not an easy task, but it’s one worth undertaking. The old saying, “If we’re calm, we can learn,” is all too true. If we can master our emotions, we will be able to improve our communication skills by listening and asking questions.

Communication Strategies

When it comes to managing emotions and conflict in our relationships, communication is vital, especially in personal relationships. However, awareness of how our conflict management styles contribute to communication breakdowns is just as crucial in promoting change. By understanding how we each communicate in conflict, we can begin to address the underlying issues that may be causing disharmony within our relationships. In addition, with this knowledge, we can learn new ways of communicating with one another that are more effective and lead to greater understanding and resolution.

Communication and Conflict Management

The best way to manage conflict in an interpersonal relationship, whether romantic or not, is to be emotionally aware and prepared to use open communication. How we share can be just as important as the content of what we are communicating. If we’re not mindful of how our emotional intelligence and personal conflict management styles contribute to communication breakdowns, we may never be able to resolve disagreements effectively.

As children, we unconsciously learn how our parents, teachers, and other adults around us tend to resolve conflicts. We may then carry these communication patterns into our interactions with others throughout our lives. For example, let’s say someone says something to us that we take to be offensive. We may react by either justifying or attacking.

By taking some time to gain awareness of our conflict management styles and how they impact our interactions with others, we can start to make positive changes in our relationships. In addition, we can learn new ways of communicating that lead to more productive conversations and greater understanding.

Expressions of Conflict

Theorists say that for every conflict situation we experience, we approach the conflict situation in one of five ways: accommodate, avoid, compete, collaborate, or compromise. No one style is inherently right or wrong – all have benefits and drawbacks, a time, and a place. The fundamental, underlying importance in managing conflict is for us to consider the relationship’s value and the issue’s importance to us.

These five core ways we can handle conflict offer us different ways to deal with conflict to achieve our desired result. This means that in a situation where a relationship is essential, we are more likely to choose collaboration or compromise. On the other hand, if the issue is significant to us, we are more likely to select competition or even avoid the situation altogether over the relationship.

It’s essential to consider the impact of the issue on the relationship.

Common Beliefs

Quite often, we are familiar with two ways of managing conflict when we disagree with another person over a particular issue. The first is to convince the other person that our way is the right way. The second is to try to find a way to meet our needs. However, there are three more ways of managing conflict that is often missed—learning about the five conflict management styles and how each of the five conflict management styles works leads to better results in our relationships. Ultimately, seeking a solution that meets both people’s needs is better for several reasons, but we have options.

There is no one “right” way to manage conflict, but different understanding styles can help us find a method that works best for us and our situation. Different people have numerous ways of managing conflict. Some people are more contentious, while others may try to avoid the problem altogether. Neither of these approaches is necessarily right or wrong but knowing how our conflict management styles can impact our communication in conflicts is essential.

Understanding different conflict management styles can help us find a method that works best for us and our situation.

Prioritizing How to Manage Conflict

Prioritizing how we respond to and manage conflict is essential to engaging in conflict resolution with our interpersonal relationships. These two strategies help to prioritize focus in our interpersonal relationships:

Responding to Information

Once we have gained valuable information about a situation, we need to decide how to proceed with it and how to use it. This can be a difficult choice. One challenging factor that may be present is that, while the information benefits us, it may not benefit the person who provided it to us. Another thing to consider is if we cannot resolve a problem, will another problem appear down the road?

Mentally Prepare

Preparing mentally to deal with difficult situations and conflict includes taking the time to understand what is at the heart of the conflict truly. There are two main aspects to conflict: the objective data and the feelings that seem to surround the situation. Separate these two aspects of a conflict situation as much as possible.

Conflict Management Strategy

Theorists say that for every conflict situation we experience, we approach the conflict situation in one of five ways: accommodate, avoid, compete, collaborate, or compromise. No one style is inherently right or wrong and each one is applied to specific situations. Each conflict style has benefits and drawbacks, a time, and a place. The fundamental, underlying importance in managing conflict is for us to consider the relationship’s value and the issue’s importance to us. (Harper, 2004) When we consider the relationship’s value and the issue’s importance, we will choose the most appropriate strategy. 

Conflict Management Styles Activity

The following are general statements about this activity’s five conflict management styles. It is important to remember that there are no right or wrong ways of managing conflict, and each interpersonal relationship we are engaged in will require us to approach a conflict situation in various ways. When we learn about the different conflict styles, we can choose the best style for the involved parties in a conflict situation. 

Creating unit plans and lesson plans using this content helps to provide a theoretical framework that normalizes conflict and conflict management styles.

This blog post is a great activity to use before or after this conflict management styles activity:

Competing Style

The competing conflict management style typically leaves one winner and one loser. When competing in conflict, we tend to take on a role where the other parties’ needs and interests are of little importance and low concern to us. The relationship takes second place to our interests, and often, our own interests may damage relationships with negative consequences because of this approach. In some situations, this approach is expected and appropriate, and even necessary. However, there may be times when this approach is precisely what is needed as it offers a quick resolution and quick decision in the short term through direct communication. 

In simple terms, competing is when we push for total victory over our opponent. This approach to managing conflict typically leaves one winner and one loser. It’s all about “I win” and “We lose.” and time constraints influence when we use this conflict style. In some situations, this approach is expected and appropriate, and even necessary for a temporary solution.

Collaborating Style

This approach to managing conflict typically leaves both parties satisfied with the outcome or resolution to the conflict. When collaborating in conflict, we tend to take on a trusting and informative role, and we share information about our interests and needs, which opens the door for the other parties to share information about their interests and needs. The relationship is the central focus of the discussions. This approach takes a lot of time, energy, and investment from all parties to resolve the conflict.

Collaborating in conflict also leaves both parties feeling like they are heard, are not being judged, and can trust each other. Therefore, when collaborating in conflict, we tend to focus on trust and building trust with the other parties involved. In turn, we will find it easier to collaborate because we have worked through any trust issues that may have occurred.

Avoiding Style

This avoiding style of conflict management may create an outcome like the competing style of managing conflict. Other times, this approach may allow the parties to cool off before discussing the conflict situation. It may also offer us an opportunity to assess the situation and decide if the conflict situation is our responsibility to participate in or not. Depending on the case, this approach may be safer for our safety and the safety of our career or education. However, it is essential to remember that avoiding a situation does not make it go away entirely, and it may be necessary to confront the problem in the end.

The style of avoidance is about avoiding conflict by avoiding the other person. When we use the avoidance style, we tend to be less assertive in our communication with others.

The avoidant approach to conflict management is a “head in the sand” approach. People who choose this strategy avoid conflict as much as possible. These people often feel that by avoiding conflict, they are being kind to others and themselves. Unfortunately, what this style of conflict management does is create an environment where unresolved conflict can fester and has the potential to blow up later.

It is important to remember that avoiding a situation does not make it go away entirely, and it may be necessary to confront the problem in the end.

Accommodating Style

This accommodating conflict management style creates a sense of harmony in a conflict situation. If we tend to use this approach to managing conflict, and we use this time, and again in any given relationship, the risk may be that we begin to feel resentment about always meeting every else’s needs. In some situations, this approach is helpful in the long run. Keep in mind that when we accommodate all the time, we may be seen as a pushover, and our essential ideas may not be brought forward when resolving the conflict.

This approach to dealing with conflict is like collaborating, except that the focus is on some compromise, typically defined by one party or another. The relationship is the central focus of the discussions and of high concern for resolving the conflict. This approach takes time, energy, and investment from all parties to resolve the dispute.

When we accommodate, we try to accommodate the other person’s feelings at all costs. We tend to be agreeable and give in to someone else’s requests or demands because we worry about making the other person unhappy.

In this approach, we are not in conflict with the other person. Instead, we find a way to meet their needs while maintaining our priorities and beliefs. This approach is practical when the two people want to focus on meeting the needs of both parties.

Compromising Style

This approach to managing conflict is about giving and taking with an element of self-sacrifice. If we tend to use this approach, we will know that when we walk away from a conflict situation, we must give a little bit up to reach a resolution. This approach may help break a stalemate or a situation where nobody would have gotten anything they may have wanted in the solution. This is often seen as a fair way to resolve a conflict, and parties show a willingness to work with one another.

When compromising, we approach conflict situations with a spirit of cooperation. The downside is that we may or may not get the best outcome or the most desirable conflict resolution. We also must depend on cooperation from the other party to resolve the conflict. This approach can also take much time, which can be inefficient if we are in a hurry.

A compromise takes both parties’ interests and aims to find a solution that benefits all parties.

In more cases than not, when compromising, each person gives up something and walks away feeling like they got something of equal value in return. They felt heard, understood, and respected but like they’d “lost.” In this type of approach to conflict, neither party will sacrifice too much of their needs and interests, but neither party feels like they’ve won either. To approach conflict this way, however, only solves half the problem.

Once we care more about the relationship than the issue, we begin to compromise.

Collaborating Style

The collaborative conflict management style typically leaves both parties satisfied with the outcome or resolution of the conflict. When collaborating in conflict, we tend to take on a trusting and informative role, and we share information about our interests and needs, which opens the door for the other parties to share information about their interests and needs. The relationship is the central focus of the discussions. This approach takes a lot of time and energy, and investment from all parties to reach a resolution to the conflict.

Collaborating in conflict also leaves both parties feeling like they have been heard, are not being judged, and can trust each other. Therefore, when collaborating in conflict, we tend to focus on trust and building trust with the other parties involved. In turn, we will find it easier to collaborate because we have worked through any trust issues that may have occurred.

It is, however, the approach that is most likely to lead to constructive results. This approach is also an effective strategy when working with conflict in teams.

Discovering Students’ Conflict Resolution Style

Teachers provide copies of the Conflict Management Style Type Assessment to each student to complete. The teacher needs to reinforce that there is no wrong or correct answer for the results of this questionnaire. Each of us is unique and individual; therefore, each of us has unique and personal conflict management styles.

Because our conflict management style depends on the meaning we attach to our relationships, ask students to focus on and refer to one connection they have in their lives while completing the questionnaire.

Teaching Strategy

When asking students to complete this self-assessment, the teacher must acknowledge that this tool is merely a way to provide participants with an opportunity to see how they manage the conflict in their lives. 

By focusing on only one relationship or role, students will learn new insights about their responses or approaches to conflict in that relationship or role. In addition, this will provide them with opportunities and options to try something different.

This conflict management style assessment is derived from the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.

More information about the Thomas-Kilmann model is explained in this video:

Small group discussions are an excellent way to end this activity. Discussion helps students to synthesize the information and normalize how they respond to conflict situations. Through group discussion about conflict management styles, students learn:

  • Names for the types of conflict management styles.
  • How to express themselves with their conflict management style.
  • Different approaches to respond to conflict situations.

Summary

It is necessary to identify the approach we will use in conflict because each method has its unique outcome and impact. It is not meant to characterize our personality. Instead, it is intended to help us choose which approach we will use, when we will use it, and when we will use a different approach.

Awareness and understanding of emotional intelligence, communication, and our conflict management styles are essential for recognizing how conflict manifests in our day-to-day relationships. This awareness and understanding are equally important when it comes to learning how we manage conflict in various relationships. By aligning our behaviour, we can build trust and respect in our most important relationships.

Reference

TACT (Teens and Conflict Together): A Facilitator’s Guide for Empowering Youth to Engage in Creative Problem Solving: Petryshyn, MA., Chartered Mediator, Suzanne: 9781451516593: Books – Amazon.ca. (2022). Amazon.ca.

TACT (Teens and Conflict Together)

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Published by suzannemarie

Educator and published author of conflict management and children's books. Living life to its fullest. I believe in courageously honouring my truth and living my legacy. Lover of meaningful conversations, coffee, food, art, and building connections. I love writing about my fascination with culture, food, adventure, self-love, and living a healthy and fulfilled life!

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