The Dual Concern Model assumes that parties’ preferred method of handling conflict is based on two underlying dimensions: assertiveness and empathy. The assertiveness dimension focuses on the degree to which one is concerned with satisfying one’s own needs and interests. Conversely, the empathy (or cooperativeness) dimension focuses on the extent to which one is concerned with satisfying the needs and interests of the other party. The intersection points of these dimensions land us in different conflict styles. It’s always helpful not only to realize your own conflict style, but to appreciate the style that your opposite number is using.
A “competitive” conflict style maximizes assertiveness and minimizes empathy. Competitive types enjoy negotiation, seek to dominate and control the interaction, and tend to look at it as a game or a sport with a winner and a loser; they pay less attention to the relationship underlying the dispute since they are focused on winning and claiming the biggest piece of the pie. Competitive types approach conflict saying: “This looks like a win-lose situation, and I want to win.”
An “accommodating” conflict style, in contrast, maximizes empathy and minimizes assertiveness. Accommodating types derive satisfaction from meeting the needs of others, are perceptive and intuitive about emotional states, detect subtle verbal and nonverbal cues, and tend to have good relationship building skills; they tend to deflect or give up in the face of conflict out of concern for the relationship, and tend to be vulnerable to competitive types. Accommodating types tend to believe that “[b]eing agreeable may be more important than winning.”
An “avoiding” conflict style is both low in assertiveness and low in empathy. Avoiders can be adept at sidestepping pointless conflict, are able to exercise tact and diplomacy in high-conflict situations, and can artfully increase their own leverage by waiting for others to make the first concession. At the same time, however, they may “leave money on the table” and miss the opportunities for mutual gain that conflict can present, neglect underlying relationships, and allow problems to fester by ignoring them. Avoiding types worry that: “I don’t want to give in, but I don’t want to talk about it either.”
“Collaborative” types are highly assertive and highly empathetic at the same time, therefore they are concerned about the underlying relationship and are sensitive to the other person’s needs while simultaneously being committed to having their own needs met. Collaborators often see conflict as a creative opportunity and do not mind investing the time to dig deep and find a win-win solution, but may be inclined to spend more time or resources than are called for under the circumstances. Collaborative types approach conflict saying: “Let’s find a way to satisfy both our goals.”
Finally, a “compromising” conflict style is intermediate on both the assertiveness and empathy dimensions. Compromisers value fairness and expect to engage in some give and take when bargaining. A compromise approach allows those in conflict to take a reasonable stance that often results in an efficient resolution to the conflict. However, compromisers sometimes miss opportunities by moving too fast to split the difference, failing to search for trades and joint gains, and may neglect the relational aspects of the dispute. Compromisers approach conflict saying: “Let’s meet halfway on this issue.”
Jeffery H. Goldfien & Jennifer K. Robbennolt, What if the Lawyers Have Their Way? An Empirical Assessment of Conflict Strategies and Attitudes Toward Mediation Styles, 22 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 277 (2006-2007) (citations omitted).