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Conflicts Among Collaborators: Best Strategies

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 7/22/2013

Do you have conflict in your projects? Do team members tend to argue when collaborating? Learn about collaboration conflict management techniques in this helpful article by Ronda Bowen.

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    Types of Conflict in Collaborative Projects

    When conflict arises in a project, before you can manage it, it is important to identify what type of conflict it is. There are five different styles of conflict in a collaboration:

    1. picture Competing Style - The competing style of conflict is when someone asserts his position completely disregarding other points of view. If you are collaborating on a project, this can be a potentially damaging style of conflict. Symptoms that a competing style of conflict has overtaken your collaboration project include poor participation on the part of team members, constant tension, or angry outbursts.
    2. Avoiding Style - The avoiding style of conflict occurs when no one is satisfied in the project. Oftentimes the avoiding style of conflict is practiced in order to delay project progress or simply to procrastinate. Symptoms that your project may be exhibiting the effects of this style of conflict include a low-level of input, decisions that are forced, a breakdown in communication, and problems that could have been solved much earlier.
    3. Compromising Style - The compromising style of conflict seeks to find a middle ground between everyone's concerns. Symptoms that your collaboration project suffers at the hands of the compromising style of conflict include missing the mark on project goals, waning trust between members, and cynicism.
    4. Collaborating Style - The collaborating style of conflict tries to satisfy all desires. Symptoms that your project is suffering from this style of conflict include trivial matters receiving dominance, lack of responsibility, and a sensation of having too much work to do.
    5. Accommodating Style - Concerns of one are given up for the sake of others. Symptoms of an accommodating style overtaking your projects include good ideas that receive little attention, projects without clear leaders, and people who do not contribute.

    Any collaboration project may demonstrate one or more of these conflict styles.

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    Collaboration Conflict Management Techniques

    Once you have identified the styles of conflict occurring in your collaborative project, you can move to resolving the conflict. There are different techniques for resolving conflict in a collaboration depending upon the style of conflict you are witnessing. Here are some tips according to style.

    Competing Style

    • Recognize that a competing style of conflict may be necessary in cases where a decision needs to be made and other team members are executing an avoiding or accommodating style.
    • It may be advantageous to practice an avoiding style to deal with a competing style.
    • Ask competing style team members if they feel that others on the team are afraid to exert their opinions.
    • Have competing style team members open discussions to the floor and encourage participation of other members.

    Avoiding Style

    • An avoiding style of conflict may be useful if there are trivial issues being discussed.
    • Encourage everyone to participate by holding open brainstorming sessions - where each person is expected to prepare for and add to the discussion.
    • Don't allow anyone to immediately silence a speaking team member.
    • Watch out for decisions that appear to be made on default - this can be a sign that your team needs communication training.

    Compromising Style

    • A compromising style of conflict is useful when you have two members who are committed to a position and not budging.
    • If it appears that team members are cynical or bargaining too much, redirect the attention of the collaboration to the issues at hand.
    • Make sure team members aren't giving up too much. If it seems that the same people tend to bend, suggest that their idea be used and play down stronger team member involvement.

    Collaborating Style

    • A collaborating style can be helpful if two or more persons are competing.
    • A collaborating style can be useful if there are good reasons to address competing concerns.
    • Create an agenda and an outline to avoid discussing trivial details and so that you stick to the important points.
    • Have individuals brainstorm on paper, hand in their paper, then read ideas aloud during brainstorming sessions to ensure everyone participates.

    Accommodating Style

    • An accommodating style can be useful when certain team members do not have as strong a stake in the decision.
    • To compensate for overly-accommodating team members, a compromise might be made.
    • If there is no discipline in the project, sometimes accommodating styles arise. Make sure that everyone is heard in the project.
    • Enforce an accommodating style if harmony is completely disrupted due to many competing styles.

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