Conflict in a Remote World: The Influence of Personality and Conflict Style 2 minute read Written by Justin Deonarine, I/O Psychologist What drives or triggers conflict? In our 2020 People Trends Report, we revealed that conflict occurs the most when handling unexpected issues and during times of change. Consider your own experience: When does conflict happen around you? Is it when personalities collide? When people want to take different approaches to the same task, or perhaps when they have different perspectives on the same scenario? Personality can be the trigger for conflict. Consider the Thinking/Feeling dichotomy in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®): When the same scenario is evaluated using two different sets of criteria, and there isn’t an alignment or agreement on the criteria, this can create conflict. However, what can easily turn into conflict can also be turned into a situation that capitalizes on the diversity of thought that others bring. This requires individuals who are open-minded, empathetic, and can identify with or understand the perspective of the other party. These skills are rooted in self- and other-awareness, creating another opportunity for personality to influence conflict. How do we approach conflict in a remote world? Sometimes we just can’t avoid conflict. Perspectives will differ and parties will need to seek a resolution that provides them with what they need. When it comes to actually managing a conflict scenario, personality alone won’t help you work your way through the conflict. This is where an understanding of conflict styles comes into play. There are 5 main approaches that people use towards conflict: Conflict Style Description & use case Description: You look to disengage from the conflict. Best used when: Diffusing a heated situation. Description: You look to satisfy your needs, even if it’s at the expense of the needs of others. Best used when: A quick decision is required (such as in an emergency). Description: You look to satisfy the needs of others, even if it comes at the expense of your own. Best used when: Harmony needs to be maintained, or if you realize that your idea/approach is wrong. Description: You look to satisfy everyone’s needs partially, as the solution means that no one is getting everything that they wanted. Best used when: A decision needs to be made under a time pressure, or if the situation is too complex to come to a full agreement on. Description: You look to find a solution where everyone gets everything that they wanted. Best used when: Seeking to achieve an ideal outcome, though it may be more difficult to do so. Everyone has an approach to conflict that they favour. This is the style that they are most comfortable with, and usually the method that has shown the most success in the past. This is where the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) becomes very useful: It reveals which approaches you are most comfortable with, and the approaches that are a stretch for you to harness. We have seen a shift in the way these conflict modes have been used throughout the pandemic, with remote working being a contributing factor in the shift. Due to these changes, some conflicts that would have been resolved when working together in the office are left unaddressed in the virtual world. With these issues festering over time, it can result in less trust between colleagues, lower morale and, ultimately, higher turnover. How can you resolve conflict in a remote working environment? Really, managing conflict in a remote environment isn’t much different from doing so when face-to-face. You still want to consider all of the factors at play and choose the best response to the situation. Keep in mind that this may not always be the conflict mode that you’re most comfortable with though. If you’re not sure which conflict style would help address the challenge at hand, ask yourself these questions: How complex is the issue? Simple (unidimensional) or complex (multi-dimensional)? How important is the topic to me? How important is the topic to the other side? Does the environment allow us to share our needs and concerns? How much time do we have to resolve this conflict? Do we trust each other enough to be open about our needs and concerns? Do we communicate effectively with each other? How important is our relationship? Once you’ve established the facts about the task, the context and the relationship (using the questions above), determine which of the 5 conflict modes will help you achieve your goals. To receive more exclusive tips, insights, and resources like this, join the Psychometrics network!