The Three “A’s” for Dealing with Conflict

Attacking. Abdicating. Accountability. 

When dealing with conflict there are only three ways in which you, or your reports, can respond. These are attacking, abdicating and being accountable.

  • Attacking – this is the first part of the “fight or flight” syndrome which we experience when we come across an uncomfortable situation. For example, we are in a meeting where someone has a differing opinion or idea.  We respond by becoming verbally violent and adopt an aggressive behavioral style.  Although this is a form of attack it is, in its essence, a defensive mechanism.  Hear our emotions control us, our ability to think objectively, to listen, to be creative and to consider alternatives is greatly reduced. This not only can lead to sub-optimal decisions, but we can alienate people and jeopardize relationships.
  • Abdicating – this is the “flight” aspect of the “fight or flight” syndrome.  Here we either withdraw from the discussion – this can be physical, mentally or emotionally – and we go to silence.  We don’t add our input or perspective to the general discussion and the collective pool of meaning and insights that the group can draw on is reduced.  Typically you will see passive-aggressive behavior being exhibited, where people only pay lip-service to what has been discussed or even actively sabotages what has been agreed in the meeting. Again, these results in sub-optimal decisions and the individual(s) who abdicate responsibility for the work or making a contribution will effectively undermine the team and his or her relationships with them.
  • Accountability – here the individual stands up and takes ownership of what is happening and the results and implications. To do this you must be open and willing to learn from others and to adapt a better solution no matter where it comes from. Accountability is about engaging yourself and others in a common purpose to achieve shared goals and outcomes. It requires you to let go of ego and to communicate and share ideas and insights, to collaborate, and to learn from each other.

There are only three responses available to you and your team – attack, abdicate or be accountable.  Most people know the first two and ignore the implications, but fail to adopt accountability as the default in order to realize the benefits.  Consider all the situations you are dealing with, at work and home, and ask yourself this: “What response I am currently adopting for this situation, and what response will provide the greatest benefits?  What three actions do I need to take to bridge the gap?” Ask yourself this, and then ask your team. Just exposing the third option of accountability will help people change how they respond to situations.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Managing Conflict Successfully, Using the Conflict Strategies Matrix

Four key strategies to use when managing conflict, and when to use them

When assessing what strategy to use in managing the conflict there are two key criteria:

  • the importance of the outcome and
  • the importance of the relationship.

Their relative importance will vary with each situation.

The four quadrants in the above matrix are:

  • Detachment/Disinterest. You don’t care about the outcome or the relationship.
  • Accommodation/Appeasement. Keeping the relationship going is far more important to you than achieving your personal goal.  In this kind of conflict, you may accommodate the other person’s interests. Accommodation approaches can be habit forming. Being flexible about your personal goals is important, but putting yourself second to all others can be an ineffectual stance.
  • Tough-Love Negotiation. You place equally high value on your goal and the relationship. These conflicts are often difficult as you look to create a ‘win-win’ situation.
  • Goal-Centered Negotiation. You don’t care whether the other person likes you, whether the relationship continues or how badly the other person feels; you just want to win. You are prepared to forgo the relationship

In managing conflict you need to be aware of and develop the necessary cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills that will allow you think, calm down, slow down and engage with the conflict constructively.

When faced with conflict, people respond in a variety of ways. They think about what is happening. They experience emotional reactions that are influenced by the ways they view and how they interpret the conflict. Finally, they also take action to address the concerns that the conflict raises.

Three other factors that will influence your style of handling conflict: power, emotionality and time.

  • Power. The extent to which a person has power will vary with the context of the situation, and the relative of the power of the others involved in the conflict. These interactions will affect how the conflict is handled. People derive their power, both formally and informally, through five main sources:
    • Reward power: using compensation to drive people to accomplish more than expected.
    • Coercive power: convincing people to do things against their will.
    • Legitimate power:  using their role  or position  within an organization to garner respect.
    • Expert power: exercising influence because they are viewed as knowledgeable in an area.
    • Referent power: compelling people to act in a certain way because they are attracted to you or want to be like you.
  • Emotionality. Certain strategies are typically accompanied by more expressed emotion, and certain emotions can influence which strategies we use. For example, tough-love is hard requiring the ability to express, tolerate and manage emotions.
  • Time. Here we find ourselves having to cope with what is important and what is urgent.  Often people fall victim to a sense of urgency and compromise on what is important.  For example, you may lack the time you need to involve everyone and gain their commitment in managing a conflict.  Time, especially the lack of it, can change the dynamics of the conflict.

Being aware of these different strategies is important in two ways – firstly, it helps you determine what kind of strategies you want to adopt in managing the conflict; secondly, it provides you a tool by which to assess what strategies the other party may adopt.

Try these three steps in developing insights in situations where you currently experience conflict:

Step 1: For yourself: where are you now and where do you want to be?  Mark it out on the matrix.

Step 2: For the other party(s): where are they now and where do you them to be?  Mark it out on the matrix.

Step 3: What do you need to do to move each other to a suitable location on the matrix that will create a “win-win” situation? Identify the key strategies and actions.

What have you found out and what will you do?

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Guidelines for Managing Conflict Successfully

Six key guidelines to manage conflict effectively

When dealing with a conflict you want to manage it effectively.  Conflicts are difficult to resolve as resolutions are rarely reached which everyone is happy with.  A conflict that is well-managed provides the basis for an approach that everyone will accept, commit to and action. Remember, you want to achieve the best outcomes possible whilst preserving and building on your existing relationships.

There are six things to do:

  • Focus on the position, not the person – you want to focus on what the underlying problem is.  Often the other person is not just being difficult, but has real and valid reasons for their position.  Focus on their position and reasons, don’t focus on the person – it makes the disagreement personal and adversarial, and brings people’s emotions into play.
  • Seek first to understand before you are understood – focus on where the other person is coming from. Try to understand their thoughts, feelings and position.  Once you have understood this, and have checked that your understanding is correct, then you are better positioned to explain your position and to do so from their context,
  • Relationships are your first priority – you need to build mutual understanding and trust.  A good relationship is a necessary precursor for a good outcome. If you lack this then you will not achieve a good relationship or a good outcome.
  • Listen – you need to listen actively  to what the other person is saying, checking for understanding, clarifying where necessary, and ensuring that what is said is what was heard, and that what was heard was what was meant.
  • Jointly establish the objective – what do you both want to achieve from the conflict? Doing this will allow you to scope out the extent of your conversation, to determine what factors are important and relevant, to help prioritize your goals, and to focus and align your efforts.
  • Develop and explore options together – either or both of your preferred choices may not be suitable, or can be improved upon.  Creating new options opens up the conversation and stimulates your collective thinking in finding a ‘best-fit’ alternative on which to agree.

By following these rules, you contentious discussions can be kept positive and constructive, and antagonism and dislike which can exacerbate the conflict can be prevented.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.