Monday, September 27, 2010


Gerhard Schwarz identifies six fundamentally different strategies for dealing with conflict. We all have these six strategies in our personal repertoire, although the extent to which we use them varies greatly from individual to individual.
1. Escape
Man is good at running away – and has been since the earliest days of mankind. Our very first strategy is to avoid conflict; anyone who spontaneously reacts differently to conflict is in a minority! In a professional context, there are various ways of adopting the escape strategy: by ignoring conflict, actively denying it, declaring it irrelevant, deliberately not dealing with it, or by labeling others who openly refer to the conflict as "conflictive".
2. Destruction
According to Schwarz, this strategy was originally Plan B for when escape was not possible. In the early years of mankind, a fight was usually to the bitter end with only one of the combatants surviving. In a professional context too, we will frequently witness conflict that ends in a "it's him/her or me" ultimatum (and once it's over, one or sometimes even both of the conflicting parties looks for "an interesting new challenge" within or outside the organization).
3. Submission
The battle can also end without bloodshed if the winner accepts his opponent's submission as victory. Without submission, long-term cooperation - and thus the development of large organizations - would be inconceivable and so in everyday situations it usually occurs in undramatic forms: falling into line with the opponent's viewpoint and cooperating despite one's own objections come under the heading of this conflict strategy.
4. Delegation
The two parties agree to put their disagreement to a third party for resolution, in other words to delegate the decision. This third party may be a decision-maker (line manager, judge) or a mediator, or it may even be a set of rules or a law etc. The two partners agree not to pursue the conflict by testing their strength against one another. They allow a third party to make the decision for them, and undertake to abide by the decision even if they do not agree with it.
5. Compromise
This is the typical negotiating strategy. Both parties know that they will not get 100 per cent of what they want, and therefore seek to achieve the greatest possible win relative to the win of the other party. A compromise may be "50:50" but can also be "70:30", and the views of the two parties on this point may differ widely. Some compromises are only achieved through the attrition of the tolerance of the other party to the conflict, and the "rottenness" of these compromises then puts their durability in question.
6. "Consensus"
Schwarz's definition of "consensus" is a long way from the common usage of the word. Whilst the term is usually used to describe a solution which has the agreement of all parties, Schwarz uses the same word to describe a new, surprising resolution to the conflict which completely satisfies the interests of all parties. This kind of solution generally only arises during lengthy negotiations where the parties are being extremely open – because only by being very open about one's own interests is it generally possible to create a trusting atmosphere. As desirable as this "consensus" might appear, in some situations it will be objectively impossible to find such a solution,  even with the best will of those involved.
Your personal repertoire:
The first two conflict strategies - flight and fight – are known as the "primary strategies". It is assumed that everyone uses both these primary strategies to some degree, and the extent to which they are used will not change greatly over the course of a person's lifetime. The other conflict strategies, on the other hand, will be greatly influenced over a person's lifetime by the experience he or she has of them. For example, in one work context compromise might be the predominant conflict strategy  but if a person moves out of this environment to another job, if may be that he or she has to learn to rely more on one of the other strategies, such as delegation.

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