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According to an article by The Guardian last week, doctors are so expensive to train and hire, they are ripe for replacement by machines. The benefits for not employing humans abound. No gripes about long hours, career blocks, trouble with consultants, conflict and local dramas  – and as for patient care… Business leadership books are littered with strategies to deal with battles and conflicts fought. Understanding your approach to conflict and how it helps, or not (!) can help you reduce the negative impact significantly. Mike Myatt has sound advice for business leaders “Don’t fear conflict; embrace it – it’s your job.” 

Successful leaders, who cultivate high performance from every team member, consistently do this, using effective conflict management as a critical skill. Knowing your conflict style raises your game. Practicing conflict management will guide you and your team’s success through to honest and better collaboration. There are five conflict styles. Choose which style best describes you. Then see how to get the best out of each conflict without losing your mind.


“I prefer it if others take the lead when solving a problem. I do not like unnecessary tension and will do what I can to avoid these types of situations.”


“I will solicit the advice of my peers to help solve a problem. I often try to find solutions to my counterpart’s problems, as well as my own. I like to address all concerns immediately in order to promptly resolve them.”


“I take a strong stance when conveying my views. I then support my position with clear logic and benefits in hopes to change my opponent’s perspective.”


“I try to focus on what we both agree on as opposed to our disagreements. At times, I will concede some of my viewpoints if it will help maintain a beneficial relationship with the other party and not hurt the person’s feelings.”


“I like to find a solution somewhere in the middle. I realize that I might have to sacrifice some of my points in order to gain others.”

The good news; everyone can be better prepared to handle conflict constructively by understanding their own approach and identifying the approach of the others involved in a conflict. The bad news; no one style is good for every situation. Sometimes conflicts need to surface so that communication can become more real and less superficial.

So here’s some guidance on how and when to use each conflict management style, brought to life with examples from Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs as depicted  by Dr.S. Livingston.

An Avoider dislikes conflict or confrontation. With this approach you may seek to thwart the other party through passive-aggressive tactics.

The “Bashful” personality appears shy, blushes often, and looks down frequently. Bashful avoids eye contact with the leader, hoping not to be called upon, and wants to hear everyone else’s opinion before speaking.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • If an issue is inconsequential
  • When you have limited power or influence
  • If the cons of confrontation outweigh the pros
  • When a higher level of perspective is needed before taking action
  • Limits communication and information gathering
  • Taking no action may lead to unintended consequences or undesirable outcome
  • Tensions may be aggravated

Top Tip: Bashful is highly observant, sensitive to the feelings of others, and hard-working. Leaders can draw Bashful out by asking an easy, neutral question first, pairing Bashful with someone else, and encouraging/allowing him to write down his answers first before speaking. The leader knows that Bashful succeeds best in a structured environment.

A Collaborator likes to work together to get as many needs met as possible on both sides, which solves conflicts in the short term and can also build a foundation of trust for the future.

The “Happy” person smiles a lot at the leader, tries to make eye contact with the leader. Happy is warm, energetic, and very responsive to the leader’s requests. He promptly does anything he is asked to do. Happy may try so hard to please and provide the “right answer” that he can be inauthentic in his input.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • To improve a difficult relationship by working through issues
  • When both parties have issues that they feel are too vital to compromise on
  • To create a win/win solution that incorporates ideas and perspectives from all sides
  • To gain consensus on an issue involving different perspectives of the problem
  • Wasting time on unimportant issues
  • One party taking advantage of the other

Top Tip: Leaders can help Happy thrive by creating a fun, whimsical environment and by offering recognition and support. The leader can call on Happy first (he’ll be anxious to speak up), which will help convince less cooperative participants to become involved.

A Competitor is not afraid to take an aggressive approach. You use power and advantages to pursue your goals, even when it negatively impacts others. Winning in the short term may be valued more highly than long-term gains.

You can spot “Grumpy” because he says “no” a lot and may sit opposite the leader. His arms are often crossed, and he’s pushed back from the table. He looks annoyed and is critical. Grumpy values competence, efficiency, and quick results, is assertive and self-confident. He strives to meet and exceed expectations.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • When you have to move quickly
  • As a method of defense in competitive situations
  • When the best interests of your business are at stake
  • A lack of give-and-take
  • Limited opportunities to learn or get different perspectives from the other party

Top Tip: Leaders can best leverage Grumpy by giving him specific assignments that require logical steps and by enlisting his help where a particular sales pitch or argument is required.

An Accommodator values their relationships with other parties. You seek to gain favour by giving in to demands in the hopes of getting what you want later.

It’s easy to spot “Sleepy” staring out the window, hiding in the middle of the group, and probably yawning. Sleepy is rational, logical, and comfortable with hands-on learning.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • To give ground on an issue that is more important to the other side, as a positive gesture
  • Build goodwill you can use to get other concessions that are more important to you
  • When you realize that your position is inferior or that you are going to lose
  • Losing power to influence outcomes
  • Others may ignore your ideas and contributions

Top Tip: Leaders can draw Sleepy out by encouraging him to share personal reveries as possible unconscious approaches to solving the problem at hand, asking him about logical and practical implications, and encouraging partnering and the sharing of ideas about technical applications.

A Compromiser likes to meet in the middle. You can resolve a conflict quickly but can disproportionately reward the party with the more extreme position.

Dopey is far from being “dopey,” these people are flexible, using humour to defuse group tension. They are good at finding practical applications and take life very seriously, even though they may appear light-hearted. Dopey sits in the middle of the group and speaks only when spoken to. He parrots anything the group expert says.

Perfect to use Potential pitfalls
  • When parties have to come to an agreement quickly
  • Achieve aims whose importance is not a top priority
  • When two equally strong parties have mutually exclusive objectives
  • Using it as a temporary solution to put off the resolution of major disputes and issues
  • A perception of betraying values, which can lead to a lack of trust

Top Tip: Leaders manage Dopey by pointing out practical applications and benefits to others and by reassuring Dopey that “all responses are good responses.” Dopey needs to put ideas first to paper and will respond favourably when leaders laugh at his or her jokes.

The Best Preparation For Handling Conflict Is To Manage Your Own Emotions

  • Be clear, direct and unemotional
  • Put yourself in the right frame of mind and have empathy
  • Stop procrastinating – Initiate the conversation yourself
  • Get to the point, but don’t rush
  • Begin by describing the conflict in neutral terms
  • Do not blame
  • Be curious about the other person
  • Be curious about yourself
  • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings

More suggestions for handling difficult conversations can be found by our team at TheHRhub, so sign up today for expert advice and support.  


Photo Credit: Meeting the Seven Dwarfs At The Character Fan Weekend by Loren Javier