What's Your Conflict Style?

Knowing Your Relationship Conflict Styles

conflict relationships Sep 25, 2023
relationship conflict styles

Knowing Your Relationship Conflict Styles

In every relationship, from budding romances to decades-long partnerships, conflicts between couples are inevitable. But have you ever stopped to think about how you approach these disagreements? Just as we have unique personalities, we also have distinct conflict styles that shape how we navigate disputes and fights. Understanding these styles isn't just about self-awareness; it's a crucial step towards healthier, more constructive communication with our loved ones. In this blog, we'll delve into the significance of recognizing and understanding relationship conflict styles and how they can transform the way we connect with those around us.

But first of all - FIND YOUR OWN CONFLICT STYLE - take our simple fun quiz here

 Decoding Our Conflict Responses

When disagreements arise, our reactions are rarely spontaneous. Instead, they're shaped by a myriad of underlying factors, each steering us toward a specific response. Whether it's the ticking clock influencing our urgency, the nature of our relationship with the other party, or the significance of the issue itself, understanding these determinants can be the key to more effective communication.

Time Restraints

Time, as they say, waits for no one. And when it comes to conflicts, the ticking clock can be a game-changer. The urgency of a situation often dictates our reactions and choices. Imagine you're trying to choose a restaurant for a leisurely weekend meal; you might engage in a lengthy discussion, weighing the pros and cons of each option. But if you're deciding where to grab a quick bite before catching a movie that starts in 30 minutes, the pressure is on. You're more likely to make a snap decision, potentially prioritizing convenience over preference. In essence, the time factor can either allow for a more measured response or push us towards hasty decisions.


The Relationship

Every relationship, be it with a family member, friend, partner, or even a stranger, carries its own set of dynamics. These dynamics play a pivotal role in shaping our conflict styles. For instance, with someone you're deeply connected to, like a partner, you might tread more carefully, valuing the relationship over the need to 'win' an argument. On the other hand, with a stranger or a distant acquaintance, you might feel less inhibited, leading to more direct confrontations. The underlying factor here is the level of emotional investment. The deeper the bond, the more cautious and considerate we tend to be, even in disagreements.

 Check out more about conflict styles here.

The Value of the Issue:

Not all conflicts are created equal. Some disagreements stem from deep-seated issues, while others might arise from fleeting, trivial matters. Think about it: Would you react the same way to a debate about personal values as you would to a disagreement about which TV show to watch next? Probably not. The weight or significance of the issue at hand often determines the intensity of our response. It's essential to gauge the importance of the matter and decide whether it's worth the emotional energy. Recognizing the difference between major issues and minor squabbles can help us approach conflicts more rationally and effectively.


What Are The Major Types Of Relationship Conflict Styles?

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, commonly known as TKI, stands as a beacon in the realm of conflict resolution and management. Developed by Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann, this tool has been instrumental in helping countless individuals understand and navigate their unique conflict styles. At its core, TKI operates on the premise that our behaviors during conflicts can be plotted on a matrix defined by two primary dimensions: assertiveness and cooperativeness. By understanding where we fall on this matrix, we can gain profound insights into our conflict-handling tendencies and work towards more constructive interactions.


Assertiveness In Relationships: The Voice of Self-Advocacy

Assertiveness is more than just being vocal; it's about expressing oneself with confidence and clarity. It encapsulates the degree to which an individual is willing to stand up for their beliefs, rights, and needs. Those who score high on this dimension are often proactive, voicing their concerns and advocating for their needs without hesitation. They believe in direct communication and are not afraid to make their stance known. Conversely, individuals with lower assertiveness might often find themselves yielding to others, sometimes at the expense of their own needs. They might prioritize harmony over confrontation, even if it means sidelining their own desires.

Cooperativeness: The Art of Collaboration

Cooperativeness, as a dimension, delves into an individual's inclination towards collaboration and mutual benefit as opposed to accommodating to the other's needs wants and desires. It's not just about agreeing or conceding; it's about actively seeking solutions that cater to the needs and concerns of all parties involved. Those with high cooperativeness are often seen as team players, always on the lookout for win-win situations. They value relationships and believe that conflicts can be resolved in a way that benefits everyone. On the other end of the spectrum, individuals with low cooperativeness might prioritize their own needs and concerns over others. They might be perceived as competitive, often focusing on personal gains rather than collective solutions.

Competing In Relationships

The competing style is characterized by high assertiveness and low cooperativeness. Individuals who lean towards this style prioritize their own needs and concerns over those of others. They're often seen as aggressive and are willing to stand their ground, even if it means confronting others directly. This style can be effective in situations where quick decisions are needed, but over-reliance on it can strain relationships.

Avoiding Conflict In Relationships

Individuals with an avoiding style tend to sidestep conflicts altogether. They neither assert their own needs nor seek to cooperate with others. Instead, they might postpone decisions, change the subject, or simply withdraw from the situation. While this style can be beneficial in situations where confrontation might be harmful, chronic avoidance can lead to unresolved issues.

Collaborating In Relationships

The collaborating style is the ideal blend of high assertiveness and high cooperativeness. Individuals who adopt this style seek win-win solutions, aiming to address both their own concerns and those of others. They value open communication and teamwork, often brainstorming solutions that cater to everyone involved. This style is particularly effective in complex situations where diverse perspectives are needed.

Expanding the Conflict Styles: Beyond TKI to the My People Patterns Format!


The TKI model offers a foundational understanding of conflict styles, but human interactions, especially in intimate relationships, are multifaceted and deeply emotional. To truly grasp the nuances of conflict in relationships, we must also consider the groundbreaking work of Dr. John Gottman. Renowned for his research on marital stability, Gottman identified the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" – four negative behaviors that can predict the end of a relationship. These behaviors, combined with the TKI model, provide a more comprehensive view of conflict styles.

The Defender - The Defensive Conflict Style

The Defender perceives conflict as a personal attack and reacts by adopting self-protective strategies which tend to manifest as righteous indignation or a sense of innocent victimhood. This reaction serves as a shield against perceived aggression or threats. While it's common for people to become defensive when criticized, the Defender takes it a step further by launching a counterattack.

The Avoider and Conflict Avoidance Style.

The Avoider is a conflict pattern characterized by a tendency to evade or sidestep disagreements or confrontations. This pattern often stems from anxiety triggered by conflicts in a fight or flight type reaction. This can lead to behaviors such as apologizing excessively, agreeing without genuine consent, or accommodating others to avoid tension. When faced with the slightest disagreement, Avoiders may blank out, feel panic, or perceive themselves as victims.

The Criticizer Conflict Style

The Criticizer is a type of person who uses criticism as a defense mechanism in relationships. This individual tends to find faults in their partner, often as a way to protect themselves from feeling vulnerable. The Criticizer's constant criticism is hostile and can create a negative atmosphere in the relationship, leading to a cycle of mutual attacks and defenses. This behavior can be driven by hardened anger, where the Criticizer holds onto grudges and harbors feelings of bitterness.

The Stonewaller Style

Stonewalling is more than just a refusal to communicate; it's a defensive strategy used to avoid feeling overwhelmed by conflict. It's a wall built to keep out the storm of confrontation, but in doing so, it also isolates the Stonewaller from meaningful connection and resolution.

The Volcano Conflict Style

The Volcano has a type of anger that can be likened to a dormant volcano that suddenly erupts, causing havoc and destruction. This type of anger is characterized by volatile, explosive outbursts that are often out of proportion to the situation at hand. The individual may seem calm and composed on the surface, but beneath that calm exterior, there's a buildup of anger and frustration that can explode without warning. The Volcano's anger may or may not be about the immediate situation or trigger, but it usually always includes underlying issues that have been swept under the rug. These issues could range from unresolved conflicts and unmet needs to feelings of being misunderstood or unappreciated. The explosive outbursts are merely symptoms of these deeper, unresolved issues, or a need for their to be a winner or a loser.


Are there certain types of relationships in which one conflict style may be more effective than another?

Absolutely! Different conflict styles can be more effective in certain types of relationships depending on the dynamics and communication patterns between individuals. Here are a few examples:

1. Romantic relationships: In romantic relationships, a collaborative conflict style often proves to be more effective. This style involves open communication, active listening, and a willingness to find mutually beneficial solutions. It helps build trust, enhances emotional intimacy, and strengthens the partnership.

2. Parent-child relationships: In parent-child relationships, an authoritative conflict style tends to be more effective. This style involves setting boundaries, providing guidance, and maintaining clear expectations while still encouraging open communication. It promotes respect, teaches important life skills, and fosters a sense of security for the child.

3. Workplace relationships: In professional relationships, an accommodating conflict style can be more effective. This style involves being flexible, understanding, and willing to compromise to maintain a harmonious work environment. It helps build teamwork, boosts morale, and facilitates effective problem-solving.

4. Friendships: In friendships, a compromising conflict style may be more effective. This style involves finding middle ground and seeking solutions that satisfy both parties. It promotes understanding, maintains the bond, and prevents conflicts from escalating.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of conflict styles may vary depending on the individuals involved, their communication skills, and the specific situation. It is beneficial to be adaptable and open to using different conflict styles as needed. Ultimately, the goal is to foster healthy and constructive communication in all types of relationships.


How can people learn to effectively manage conflicts in their relationships?

Conflicts are an unavoidable part of any relationship, be it romantic, friendship, or familial. However, the key to maintaining a healthy and long-lasting connection lies in how effectively we manage these conflicts. Here are some tips to help individuals learn how to manage conflicts in their relationships:

1. Communication is key: Effective communication is the foundation of resolving conflicts. It's important to openly and honestly express your thoughts and feelings, while also being a good listener. Avoid using accusatory language and instead focus on using "I" statements to express how certain behaviors or actions make you feel.

2. Choose the right time and place: Timing and environment play a crucial role in conflict resolution. Try to find a suitable time and place where both parties can calmly discuss the issue without distractions. Avoid initiating discussions when emotions are running high, as it can escalate the conflict further.

3. Seek to understand: It's essential to approach conflicts with an open mind and a willingness to understand the other person's perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and try to empathize with their feelings, experiences, and point of view. This can help foster a sense of mutual respect and cooperation.

4. Focus on the problem, not the person: When addressing conflicts, it's important to separate the issue at hand from personal attacks. Instead of attacking the other person's character, focus on the specific behavior or situation that is causing the conflict. This helps maintain a respectful and constructive dialogue.


What strategies can be used to manage relationship conflict?

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, be it romantic, familial, or professional. How we manage and resolve conflict can make all the difference in the quality and longevity of our connections. Here are some effective strategies that can help you navigate and manage relationship conflict:

1. Effective Communication: Open and honest communication is the foundation for resolving conflicts. Practice active listening by giving your full attention to the other person and genuinely trying to understand their perspective. Use "I" statements to express your feelings and avoid blaming or criticizing the other person. Be respectful and avoid interrupting or talking over each other.

2. Choose the Right Time and Place: Timing is crucial when addressing conflicts. Find a suitable time and place where both parties can discuss the issue without distractions or interruptions. Avoid discussing sensitive topics when you or the other person are tired, stressed, or in a hurry as it may escalate the conflict further.

3. Focus on the Issue, Not the Person: Remember, the goal is to resolve the conflict, not to win an argument or belittle the other person. Separate the problem from the person and focus on addressing the issue at hand. Avoid personal attacks or bringing up past grievances.

4. Seek to Understand, Not to Judge: It's essential to approach conflicts with empathy and a willingness to understand the other person's perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the situation from their point of view. This can help foster empathy and build a stronger connection.

5. Compromise and Find Balance: Conflict often arises from differing needs, wants, or opinions. To effectively manage relationship conflict, it's crucial to find a middle ground where both parties feel satisfied. This requires a willingness to compromise and prioritize the relationship over individual desires it also requires each person to take responsibility for their actions. Look for win-win solutions where both parties can get some of what they want.

6. Practice Emotional Intelligence: Emotions can run high during conflicts, but it's important to be aware of and manage your emotions effectively, understand to role of validating your partner's experience vs arguing with it. Practice emotional intelligence by recognizing and understanding your own emotions, as well as the emotions of the other person. This can help you respond in a more empathetic and rational manner, fostering better communication and conflict resolution.

7. Take a Break if Needed: Sometimes, conflicts can become heated and overwhelming. In such situations, it's okay to take a break and step away from the discussion temporarily. This allows both parties to cool down and gather their thoughts before returning to the conversation. However, it's important to set a specific time to come back and continue the discussion to avoid leaving conflicts unresolved.

8. Seek Mediation or Professional Help: If conflicts persist and you find it challenging to resolve them on your own, don't hesitate to seek outside help. Couples therapy, relationship coaching, or mediation can provide a neutral and supportive environment for addressing conflicts and improving the quality of your relationship. A trained professional can offer guidance and tools to navigate conflicts more effectively.


What are the most common causes of relationship conflict?

Relationship conflicts can arise from a variety of factors, and it's important to understand them in order to address and resolve them effectively. Here are some of the most common causes of relationship conflict:

1. Poor Communication: Communication breakdown is a significant cause of conflict in relationships. When partners fail to effectively express their feelings, needs, and expectations, misunderstandings and resentments can build up over time.

2. Trust Issues: Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. When trust is compromised, whether through lies, infidelity, or broken promises, conflicts often arise. Rebuilding trust takes time and effort from both partners.

3. Differences in Values and Priorities: Conflicts can arise when partners have differing values, beliefs, and priorities. For example, if one person values financial security while the other values spontaneity and adventure, conflicts may arise regarding how money is managed and spent.

4. Unresolved Past Issues: Past traumas, unresolved conflicts, or unresolved emotions from previous relationships can interfere with the current relationship. These unresolved issues can resurface and cause conflicts if not addressed properly.

5. Lack of Intimacy: Intimacy encompasses emotional, physical, and sexual connection. When one or both partners feel emotionally or physically distant, conflicts can arise. It is important to foster a sense of intimacy through open communication, affection, and quality time together.

6. Power Struggles: Power struggles often occur when partners struggle to balance and negotiate their needs and desires. Conflicts may occur for financial reasons and other issues around power.

Learn more about conflict, family systems and growing great relationships

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