The 5 most common conflict resolution styles (and which ones make you a better leader)

“Conflict can and should be handled constructively; when it is, relationships benefit. Conflict avoidance is not the hallmark of a good relationship. On the contrary, it is a symptom of serious problems and of poor communication.”

These wise words from Harriet B. Braiker, author of Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life, provides a backdrop for the kind of conflict resolution styles that serve organizations best.

Human beings are complex by nature and each person has their own unique way of handling conflict resolution informed by the intrinsic traits of their personality. When an uncomfortable situation arises how do you handle it? Within the corporate world, there are several instances in which we have to engage in a meaningful way to “keep the peace.” There are styles of resolving interpersonal conflict that will serve all parties involved best relative to the situation at hand.

There are 5 different models of conflict resolution styles typically orchestrated in the workplace while trying to navigate the landmines of conflicting corporate interests. According to David B. Cohen, author of a workbook questionnaire that gets to the heart of your conflict resolution style with open-ended queries that accompany the textbook Industrial-Organizational Psychology an Applied Approach, you can fall under any one of the following archetypes.

Are you a sage, diplomat, ostrich, philanthropist, or warrior when it comes to dealing with problems at the office? What can you do to improve the environment where you work?

1. The Sage

This conflict resolution style is definitely lauded above all others and values collaboration with all parties involved. The sage wants everybody’s needs and concerns met and you can typically tell when a leader celebrates this particular mode of communication in their company if they like to hold company-wide meetings with employees on every level. These open-ended discussions about blind-spots that need to be addressed in the company are viewed as an opportunity to improve internal operations. This is to signal to their team that everyone’s input matters, whether they’re an intern or upper management. Otherwise known as a win-win compromiser the sage is a master in fostering working relationships with mutual respect, trust, and willingness to hear everyone out that creates a team-oriented workplace culture.

2. The Diplomat

The diplomat usually takes the win-some, lose-some approach to handling conflicts. This particular method of conflict resolution tends to be a bit more self-serving in that while they are willing to hear everyone’s position out on a particular disagreement the solution usually benefits them more so than the other parties involved. Through exercising diplomacy more often than not a middle ground is reached through negotiations that involve both sides willing to give up a little bit of agency to benefit the company. For example, say employees bring up the fact that their salaries don’t match the added responsibilities of a new position but the company can’t afford pay raises due to losses faced during the height of the pandemic last year. The diplomat will assuage concerns by perhaps offering extra paid time off as a placeholder to recognize the hard work of their team without sacrificing the bottom line and potentially sinking the company they worked so hard to build into bankruptcy.

3. The Ostrich

This conflict resolution style is one of the worst types to have if you’re trying to lead your team successfully. If you’re an ostrich you probably find yourself avoiding difficult situations altogether. An old myth used to claim when ostriches feel scared and threatened they plunge their heads deep into the sand until the potential threat has left the vicinity. This isn’t how the real world works since conflict left unattended usually snowballs into an even bigger issue. For example, say you work in HR and one of your female co-workers brings up an issue regarding sexual harassment in the workplace from upper-management. This is historically a very uncomfortable situation to address. However, if you let it linger and avoid reprimanding this reprehensible behavior from someone in a prominent position of power for fear you may jeopardize your own job you risk the chance your co-worker may feel undervalued and this unchecked behavior can sink the entire company’s reputation.

4. The Philanthropist

The philanthropist tends to be the office doormat. They often bend over backward to please everyone when conflict arises often at the detriment of their own needs that have yet to be met. This style of conflict resolution usually ends in an “I lose, you win” scenario. One example of this could be multiple employees requesting the same block of time off for vacation. In order to keep things copacetic, you approve everyone’s request to take off—leaving you with a heap of extra responsibilities to take on just so you can be viewed as the nice boss. This kind of martyr behavior will only build resentment on your end over time and possibly turn you off from any sort of leadership role in the future.

5. The Warrior

If you take a warrior approach to tackle problems in the workplace you’re likely to use any means necessary to get what you want. Someone with a warrior mindset only has their best interests at heart and will resort to manipulation tactics to meet them. This kind of narcissistic conflict resolution style can serve leaders well in quickly rising the ranks short-term, but analyzing this tactic big-picture often ends badly since this leadership style sows mistrust in the organization as a whole. It’s much better to encourage collaboration on all fronts or else you’ll find yourself working with a team that is too frightened to speak up and implement positive changes with a bottom-up approach.