Script: The Basics of Psychology for Christian Ministry
Homework Assignments

3.5.1 Stances toward conflict

Kilmann and Thomas described different ways of approaching conflicts which are determined by two factors: 1) How much a person cares about relationships. This can be situationally driven, or it can be determined by where the person falls on the continuum between dependence and independence. 2) How important the particular subject at hand is to a person or how assertive the person is.

  • Avoidance is, according to this model, not necessarily an indicator of peacefulness but of a lack of investment. People who avoid conflict may stay on the sidelines because they do not care and just want to be in a spectator role. Sometimes, this may indicate a self-protective attitude in response to past hurts and disappointments. Lacking the skills to assert themselves, they have come to believe that it is impossible to attain goals and to preserve relationships at the same time. In church settings, people who avoid getting involved may simply be too absorbed by other concerns to become more active. 
  • An accommodating stance is marked by a readiness to give up personal preferences for the sake of maintaining peace. People with this attitude may regard conflict as bad, something that should be avoided at all costs. They might also have a dependent attitude feeling too powerless to pursue their own goals and, therefore, rely on others to take care of their needs. People who simply lack assertiveness often take a passive-aggressive stance during conflict. They may comply begrudgingly and half-heartedly and resort to complaining or gossiping as a way of expressing their frustration.
  • At the other extreme is a competitive attitude, where controlling the situation to achieve the desired outcome takes precedence over all other concerns. People with a very assertive personality are power players who perceive situations as win-lose scenarios.  For them, concerns about relationships automatically take the backseat when other people are seen as standing in the way. In arguments, people with a competitive mindset tend to be very convinced of their views and objectives. In fact, they may not even be motivated to take on a different perspective. They might also find it difficult to understand how their assertive ways affect others. Very assertive people are able to pursue their interests ruthlessly at one moment and be jovial just moments later when the gloves are back on. In contrast, their more sensitive and unassertive counterparts may still feel hurt or offended and take longer to return to normal. They might actually maintain a more guarded stance for an extended period of time. 
  • Compromise is the idea that, if everybody is willing to give up a little, all parties involved can achieve some of their goals without sacrificing their mutual relationships. Attaining a compromise involves bargaining and the readiness to moderate one’s expectations. Compromising can be very difficult in cases where one or both parties have strong moral convictions and compromising would be equal to a betrayal of their principles. Agreeing to a compromise also becomes difficult when one or both parties have already made significant sacrifices for their respective causes and accepting less than what one hoped for appears to be too painful to contemplate.
  • People who take a collaborative mindset seek for ways to expand the available options in order to advance what is important to them while, at the same time, making as much room as possible for the interests of others (e.g. by seeking or creating opportunities for synergy). They have a generally positive view of conflict as a necessary part of productive change.  As a result, they are less susceptible to anxiety and anger when they encounter impasses and discord. This allows them to keep an open mindset and see opportunities rather than shutting down and seeking to merely assert their interests. A key skill in this capacity is empathy, the ability to see a situation through multiple lenses and to appreciate the needs of someone else. With regards to the dependence-independence spectrum, people with a collaborative mindset do not see themselves as independent. However, to them, the alternative is not a passive form of dependence, but a more active stance. They understand the power of interdependence as a basis for strong, mutually beneficial relationships. As a result, people with a collaborative mindset are effective as mediators because they are able to think outside the box, overcome impasses, and create win-win scenarios.