Understanding Personality Types Can Help Resolve Conflicts

By Dana Wilkie Oct 27, 2015
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BOSTON—You have in your office two company managers. One takes a competitive approach to confli​​ct: She likes quick action and wants things her way. The other tends to avoid conflict: She buys time to diffuse tension. Each wants to hire a different applicant for one open position, and as HR manager, you must help them agree before both candidates disappear.

Tall order?

It can be done, although not without understanding that each person has her own conflict-resolution style that may be at odds with their co-workers’ styles, said Robert Wiedefeld, owner of business-strategy consultancy Appaloosa Resources LLC. Wiedefeld gave a daylong seminar Oct. 25, 2015, on conflict resolution at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition.

“We’re at a conference to learn everything we can about diversity,” said Wiedefeld. “There is a direct correlation between diversity and inclusion—or the lack of it—and conflict.”

Wiedefeld’s aim, he told participants, was to help them learn how to manage conflict between diverse personalities. To that end, Wiedefeld walked attendees through a self-assessment to identify their primary personality type. The four possible types are:

  • Dominance: Likes challenges, freedom, immediate results and rewards, bluntness, brevity, and capable leaders.
  • Compliance: Avoids risks, likes thorough research and quality work, and embraces cooperation.
  • Inducement: Enjoys recognition and meeting people, as well as things that are new, different or unusual.
  • Steadiness: Likes stability, predictability, titles, the feeling of belonging and repeated affirmation.

Wiedefeld asked participants to imagine this rather tense conversation between a manager with a Dominance, or type-D, personality and a subordinate with a Compliance, or type-C, personality about a project that the first assigned to the latter.

D: “Where’s the project?”

C: “You said it’s not due until Tuesday.”

D: “Do you have anything I can look at yet?”

C: “It’s not quite ready; it needs more research.”

D: “OK, but I want to see something tomorrow.”

The most effective conflict managers tend to have a balance of characteristics from each of the four personality types, Wiedefeld said. That doesn’t mean, he added, that those who demonstrate an inclination toward one specific personality type can’t be taught to adapt their approach to resolve conflict.

These personality types are just part of the equation—but they may influence the type of conflict-resolution strategy a manager is most comfortable with, Wiedefeld said. Using another self-assessment called the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, participants identified which of five conflict-resolution styles they tend to embrace:

  • Competing: “My way or the highway” style. This person takes quick action, makes unpopular decisions, stands up for vital issues and protects himself.
  • Accommodating: “It would be my pleasure” approach. This person is reasonable, wants to create goodwill and keep the peace, and tends to retreat if pushed by others.
  • Avoiding: “I’ll think about it tomorrow” strategy. This type wants to avoid tension, and so is adept at sidestepping issues or buying time before making decisions.
  • Collaborating: “Two heads are better than one” methodology. This type is skilled at relationship-building, merging different perspectives and winning commitment from others.
  • Compromising: “Let’s make a deal” approach. This type is good at finding temporary solutions to a conflict, especially when dealing with time constraints, even if the solution is not ideal.

Understanding the resolution style of each person involved in a conflict, Wiedefeld said, makes it easier to find a way to “get this person with this conflict strategy to deal with this person who has a different conflict strategy.”

People who have characteristics of several conflict-resolution styles may find it easier to adapt their own approach to accommodate others, Wiedefeld added. Yet those who identify closely with just one conflict-resolution style may find that adaptation more difficult.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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