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What Is the Competing Conflict Management Style and When Should You Use It?

The competing conflict management style is an approach to problem solving that is very high on the assertiveness scale and low on the cooperation scale. It will help you get your way and keep your construction project moving, but it does have its downside.

There are four other conflict styles, which are:

  • Accommodating style
  • Collaborative style
  • Compromising style
  • Avoiding style

What is the competing conflict style?

The competitive style involves one, dominant person attempting to achieve their goals at the expense of the other parties involved. The competing individual is in a power-driven mode, and asserts his or her point of view, usually making a quick decision with little to no discussion. This mode can be quick and efficient, although the feelings and views of others are rarely considered, nor is there any desire to collaborate.

Example of the competing style in practice

There’s a six-story office building under construction with several crews on the job. One crew member continually ignores safety protocol, skirting steps that could risk his life. The manager reprimands him in front of everyone and dismisses him. He is behaving in such a way that could lead to an accident. The safety issue could endanger others and, in the long-term, the project itself. Though the competing style is often viewed negatively, the decisive action taken by the manager here can also be seen as positive because it keeps everyone safe.

When should you use the competing style?

Competing can be an effective, appropriate management skill for dealing with conflict in the following situations:

  • When a quick decision is necessary
  • When the outcome is the most important thing
  • When you are certain you are right
  • When safety is at issue
  • When being right matters more than your relationship with the other party
  • When unpopular actions must be taken such as cutting costs or enforcing rules
  • When your authority is challenged
  • When change is needed

When shouldn’t you use the competing style?

While being heavy-handed may enable you to get your way, there are potential pitfalls of using the competing style, too:

  • It may cause the other parties not to voice important concerns or valuable information because they feel they will be ignored.
  • If your employees don’t feel heard, they may not be particularly loyal.
  • Extreme assertiveness can harm your relationships. When relationships are important, consider using the collaborating or compromising style instead.

How to move away from competing towards other conflict management styles

If you frequently use the competing style as a conflict management skill, you’re focused almost exclusively on reaching your goals, even if it is damaging to your relationships. You also tend to be unyielding, and you don’t like looking at time-consuming alternatives. If you suspect that competing is your default when it comes to conflict management styles and you’d like to consider other ways to find a solution to issues in your workplace, try the following:

  • Think about whether competing is the appropriate style for the situation, weighing the pros and cons.
  • Listen to others, giving them ample attention and thought.
  • Honestly examine various options raised by other parties.
  • Be honest with yourself about any grudges that might be affecting your feelings about the conflict.
  • Acknowledge that your desire to be competitive could have a negative effect on your relationship with the other parties involved.

Working with someone who uses the competing style

If you happen to work with someone who uses the competing style when handling conflict and would like to foster a more mutually beneficial approach in which your viewpoint is considered, it might be helpful to take the following steps:

  1. Give the person a chance to clearly explain his/her position.
  2. Repeat what you’ve heard to ensure mutual understanding.
  3. Acknowledge what you agree with.
  4. Request that the other party carefully listen to your position, using facts to back up your assertions.
  5. Consider putting both positions in writing.
  6. Note the mutual benefits of a decision that involves collaboration or compromise, conflict management skills that are more satisfying for everyone.
  7. Explain how your position will benefit the other person.

When trying to manage conflicts, professional mediators often use the above tools to help both sides move towards a resolution.

MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications, like managing conflict on the jobsite.

Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.

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Featured Instructor

Dr. Christine Fiori

Dr. Christine Fiori is the Program Director of the Construction Management Program at Drexel University where she teaches courses in Project Controls, Equipment Applications and Economics, Leadership, Safety and Strategic Management. Prior to joining the faculty at Drexel University, she was the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and Associate Director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech. She received her PhD in Civil Engineering from Drexel University in 1997. She served as a Civil Engineering officer in the United States Air Force and taught at both the US Air Force Academy and Arizona State University. Her passion for building was stoked early in her life as both her father and grandfather were carpenters.

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