Intention and Assertion in Conflict

I did a presentation on conflict back in May this year wherein I spent time explaining the dual concern model. At the end of the presentation there was a question and answer session. One of the attendees asked how she could be move from the side of the model where she avoided conflict to the side where she could occasionally get what she wanted in the conflicts she faced. She worried that she too often gave in to the demands of others. My answer to her was to decide what is important to her and fight for that.

A week or two later, this exchange started me thinking about intentionality in conflict; that is, fighting for what you think is important, or choosing not to, as a conscious decision. Without intention, choosing or not choosing to fight are behavioral tendencies over which you have little control. I thought about this because the lady I spoke with was concerned about her tendency to give in to demands even when she did not want to.

Based on the model I use (you can call it the dual concern model or the Thomas-Killman instrument) avoiding and competing can be viewed as unintentional behavior, or defaults; that is, reactions over which a person has little control. In contrast, accommodating and collaborating can be viewed as intentional behaviors, or a choice made. Compromise, as befits it’s geography within the model, is a middle ground; more forced upon rather than a reaction or decision. Thus, I gained a new understanding of the X-axis of the dual concern model as being a measure of intent.

A companion explanation of the Y-axis eluded me. It was in recent conversation with a colleague (several months later) that I finally figured out what the Y-axis represents: assertion. Standing up for yourself, essentially. Per this new analysis, again based on the model I use, accommodating and avoiding represent a lack of assertiveness whereas collaborating and competing represent an act of assertion. Compromising again occupies the middle ground between assertive and non-assertive behavior, being more forced upon parties than being the consequence of any choices made.

Months ago, I advised the young lady that she had to figure out what she was willing to fight for and to fight for that. I told her that there was a good chance she could lose the battle, but that didn’t make fighting the battle any less important. What I did not realize at the time was that I telling her to be intentive and assertive. These were concepts I realized because I was trying to help a young woman to fight for something that was important to her. I cannot rightly say that I did not understand what I was telling her at that moment, but I now realize that I have a better understanding of why I told her what I did.

I, as much as anybody else in the world, am on a journey to evolve greater control over the conflicts I face. This is a reminder that I can also learn from each encounter.

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