Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 3, 2012

How To Debate Better Than A Presidential Candidate and Manage Conflict Like A Pro

Part of the draw of the presidential debate is the ensuing conflict. We want to hear how each candidate responds to points of difference, and clarifies their own perspectives.

Yet, on the job, many people feel that conflict is not a desirable state. They are even afraid of it. Well, I beg to differ. I think that it is wonderful when folks are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to personal and organizational success. When people do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge or question one another — all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth and making great decisions — some really cool things can happen.

It can increase commitment, engagement and accountability; drive results; and build understanding, trust and rapport. We can disagree and thrive. And here is another reality: when conflict isn’t surfaced and discussed, it can actually undercut situations and relationships in ways that are insidious and harmful.

How we manage conflict is where the rubber hits the road!

But first lets definite it: Conflict is any situation in which your concerns or desires differ from those of another person.

Here’s a little exercise: think of a recent situation in which you experienced conflict, and the outcome was not satisfying. How did you approach the conflict? What might you have done differently?

There are many different styles of handling conflict. They are called conflict modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. Each of the five modes have their own degree of assertiveness and cooperativeness, and each of us have our own comfort level and experience using the different modes. As a result, there may be times when we overuse one mode and underuse another. Being able to flex these different styles can help us to become more artful in dealing with conflict.

What mode are you most comfortable with? How can you introduce some of the following styles into your interactions?

  • Competing: assertive and not cooperative; the goal is to “win.”
  • Collaborating: assertive and cooperative; the goal is to find a “win-win.”
  • Compromising: in the middle on assertive and cooperative dimensions;to find middle ground.
  • Accommodating: cooperative and not assertive; the goal is to “yield.”
  • Avoiding: low assertiveness and low cooperativeness; the goal is to “delay.”

Each of the modes have value and benefit. The key is to know when to use which mode, understand the preferred modes of those with whom you interact and flex your style accordingly.

How will you deal with your next conflict, and maybe even embrace it? Alan Cohen will present on “Those Difficult Talks for PR Pros,” based on his book of the same title, at the PRSA 2012 International Conference .

Alan Cohen, MBA, PCC, is the president of Acts of Balance Executive Coaching and Training and the author of “Those Difficult Talks for PR Pros.” Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn, and become a fan of Acts of Balance on Facebook.

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