Coaching Association of Canada

5 Approaches to Conflict Management

Not all conflicts are created equal. Some conflicts you face as a coach will be more difficult to resolve than others. As a coach, you’ll need to consider how your approach to conflict management might impact the outcome of the conflict, or to tailor your approach to better suit the situation. This article with help you determine your preferred approach to managing conflict and help you understand the various approaches, when to use them, and characteristic behaviours of those who employ them.

Presented below is a short survey that will help you determine your preferred approach to managing conflict. You will learn more about your preferred approach if your choices reflect how you actually behave, not how you would like to behave. Write down the question number and the letter of the statement that best describes your behaviour as a coach in most situations. Use this scoring sheet to find out what approach you prefer (click here).

1 A There are times when I let others take responsibility for solving problems. B Rather than negotiate the things on which we disagree, I try to stress those things upon which we both agree.
2 A I try to find a compromise solution. B I attempt to deal with all of others’ and my concerns.
3 A I am usually firm in pursing my goals. B I might try to soothe the other’s feelings and preserve our relationship.
4 A I try to find a compromise solution. B I sometimes sacrifice my own wishes for the wishes of the other person.
5 A I consistently seek the other person’s help in working out a solution. B I try to do what is necessary to avoid useless tensions.
6 A I try to avoid creating unpleasantness for myself. B I try to win my position.
7 A I try to postpone the issue until I have had some time to think it over. B I give up some points in exchange for others.
8 A I am usually firm in pursing my goals. B I attempt to get all concerns and issues immediately out in the open.
9 A I feel that differences are not always worth worrying about. B I make some effort to get my way.
10 A I am firm in pursing my goals. B I try to find a compromise solution.
11 A I attempt to get all concerns and issues immediately. B I might try to soothe the other person’s feelings and preserve our relationship.

Now that you're familiar with the approach you prefer to employ, consider familiarizing yourself with the other approaches. Being able to understand and employ an approach suited to the situation in which, or individual with whom the conflict takes place is hugely beneficial. The information and instrument below describe all five different approaches to managing conflict: competing, collaborating, compromisingavoiding, and accommodating.  

  • Competing is assertive and unco-operative

    You pursue your concerns at the other person's expense. This is a power-oriented approach in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position — your ability to argue, your position, or ability to reward or punish. Competing means “standing up for your rights”, defending a position you believe is correct, or simply trying to win. 

  • Accommodating is unassertive and co-operative 

    This is the complete opposite of competing. You neglect your own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person. Accommodating may take the form of selfless generosity or charity, complying with another person's instructions when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another's point of view. 

  • Avoiding is unassertive and unco-operative 

    You neither pursue your own concerns nor those of the other person. You do not deal with the conflict. Avoiding may take the form of diplomatically side-stepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation. 

  • Collaborating is both assertive and co-operative 

    It is the opposite of avoiding. You work with others to find a solution that fully satisfies your and others’ concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of all parties. Collaborating may take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn one another's insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem. 

  • Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and co-operation 

    You seek an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls midway between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than accommodating. It addresses an issue more directly than avoiding but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. Compromising may mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

When working through conflict with someone, it's important to understand the characteristic behaviours they might exhibit if they're more prone to a particular conflict management approach. It's also important to understand when it is more appropriate to use certain approaches. The table below outlines these two important considerations.

Approach >>> Avoiding Accommodating Compromising Competing Collaborating
Characteristic Behaviour Cautiously withdraws from conflict. Places higher emphasis on harmony and goodwill than “winning”. Accepts outcomes will be partially satisfying for all but not fully satisfying to anyone. Takes firm stands. Open to the positive possibilities conflict creates.
Appropriate Use The issue is unrelated to key issues, e.g., the videos to rent for the bus trip to the competition. A peaceable solution now will pave the way for future gains, e.g., if you leave the gym now, you can return to negotiate a better practice schedule. Going around in circles with others of equal authority and equally strong commitment to mutually exclusive goals. An emergency or crisis. E.g., the safety of your athletes is at risk. Time is available to find a consensus solution. E.g., it is early in the season and conflict about team norms has just come up.

Want a more complete assessment of your preferred approach to managing conflict or more information on how to effectively manage conflict? The Managing Conflict module, part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Multi-sport module series for coaches, will provide you with additional knowledge! Contact your Provincial or Territorial Coaching Representative for more details!