Posts Tagged ‘Conflict Continuum’

How do you respond in difficult situations?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I mentioned the ‘Responses to Dominance’ model in my last post about the Sky Sports sexism furore. I have always found this an interesting and helpful model for enabling us to understand how people may respond differently to ourselves in the same or similar situations.

The model (also sometimes referred to as the ‘Conflict Continuum’) has three named positions on a horizontal line (the continuum). At one end of the line there is the Withdrawal (Avoidance) position, and at the opposite end is the Resistance (Confrontation) position. And in the middle of the line the point labelled Acquiescence (Diffusion).

The model is labelled as a continuum because a person can take any of these positions – but can also change their position on the continuum at any point. People will often adopt different positions in different situations, however, usually a person will have a ‘preferred’ or default position when finding themselves in a position of conflict.

It is possible to develop the Sky Sports scenario further in order to illustrate the model. Let’s say, in our hypothetical situation, that there is a camerawoman who works for Sky Sports who has witnessed the now public sexist incidents (and possibly other similar situations) that have occurred within the Sky Sports studios and elsewhere where Sky Sports have been reporting from. ‘Camerawoman’ is a bit of a mouthful to keep repeating, so let’s call her Jill.

When Jill has witnessed one of these incidents and recognised the sexism, it may well be that she is a little concerned, wondering if whether it the sort of workplace she wants work in. It may be that it takes a few such incidents for her to be concerned. Whenever it occurs, she will probably think about her options. Jill could start looking for another job, or hand in her notice immediately. This latter course of action can sometimes be followed when the situation has a severe impact on the person and possibly brings about a deterioration in their health. Both of these responses would be examples of Withdrawal – as Jill is taking herself away from the situation.

Alternatively, it may well be that she decides that whilst she doesn’t like it, she’s going to tolerate it as she has a lot of friends at the company – and whilst she will tolerate it, she also doesn’t want to rock the boat. So Jill may witness such an incident and one of her male (or female) colleagues might say something like, “You’re okay with this banter, aren’t you – you know we’re not sexist?”. Whilst Jill is uncomfortable with this sort of workplace behaviour, she could replied, “Sexist? Don’t be daft, of course you’re not – it’s a good laugh”. Here Jill would be diffusing the situation, and therefore providing us with a good example of how someone Acquiesces.

Jill’s final possible position on our continuum is that of Resistance. People can resist, or confront, in two ways – through the use of either Negotiation or Power. If Jill chose to give feedback to those involved by explaining what they were doing and how it was impacting on her, she would be confronting the issue through Negotiation. To do this successfully she would be having an Adult (TA) conversation with the other individual(s). It has the potential to be a win-win situation – as the behaviour will cease, Jill will be happier, her colleagues will learn and they will probably be stronger as a team. If you want to build a mature team or organisation, this is the approach that needs to be used – hence why there is such a push for mediation to be used in the workplace.

Jill could also address the matter through the use of Power – either immediately, or perhaps if a Negotiated approach has been unsuccessful. Examples of the use of Power can be taking a person to an Employment Tribunal, or, perhaps specific to this type of workplace, releasing audio or audio visual recordings of the incidents to the wider media, knowing or believing that they would be picked up and broadcast more widely (Perhaps this is what happened in the actual scenario that led to Andy Gray and Richard Keys leaving Sky Sports?). How does this differ from the Negotiated approach? Well, Jill would probably be addressing this from her Parent ego state (TA) – particularly if she went straight for this course of action before trying to address it in any other way – and there is likely to be a win-lose result.

We have to remember – and this is very important – that all positions on the continuum can be appropriate. People need to use the method that is most useful for them at a particular time. If Jill had financial constraints, giving up her job might cause more stress than carrying on in an uncomfortable environment, so Acquiescence would be right for her at that time. And what might be right for the development of the organisation is not necessarily right for the individual.

In my next post, I’ll describe a model that really helps people address conflict successfully – in other words, a model to support the approach of Negotiation.

Paul