The Dual Concern Model and Conflict Tendencies

The Dual Concern model does more than describe reactions to conflict, it also describes tendencies. For the purposes of this discussion I will define a tendency as an uncontrolled habitual response to conflict. Simply put, tendencies are our natural reactions to conflict. In contrast, and also only for the purposes of this discussion, I will define reaction as a controlled and considered response to conflict.

We will reference the Conflict Management Strategies brochure (hereafter brochure) available here. To refresh your memory, the correspondence of behaviors to cute animal description works thusly:

  • Avoid = Turtle
  • Contend = Shark
  • Yield = Teddy Bear
  • Problem Solve = Owl
  • Compromise = Fox

A turtle (avoid) will withdraw from conflict, every conflict. They surrender whatever interest and concerns they might have at the first sign of conflict. Practically speaking, their fear of conflict is so severe that they essentially operate without any interests in the face of conflict.

In my last post I stated that contending (shark) and yielding (teddy bear) are two sides of the same coin.  Here, I will add that this entails an understanding of your own interests and an understanding of the other party. As tendencies go, sharks and teddy bears describe a completely different set of conflict goals.

Sharks (contend) are competitive, if not outright aggressive. They have to win. For a shark, conflict is always a zero-sum game; that is, you have to lose for them to win. For something that is important, this can be the appropriate behavior. However, this can also lead to aggressive fighting over something of little or no importance.

Teddy bears (yield) are focused on maintaining relationships. In the interest of maintaining a relationship, they will often abandon their own interests to avoid conflict. Now, this is not the same avoidance of conflict strategy that a turtle would use; a teddy bear makes a choice to give up something specific for the sake of peace whereas a turtle hides from all conflicts.

The fox (compromise) looks for middle ground. If you remember that compromise is a mutually disagreeable solution, you can understand the fox’s strategy. The fox might never win, but they will never lose either.

The owl (problem solve) seeks to find solutions that works for everyone. Owls are rare. However, it is important to remember that we can all become owls. In order to do this we must first understand what it is that we wish to accomplish and what is important to us; these are the interests that I have been writing about. We must also attempt to understand the interests of those we face in conflict. Also, owls approach conflict with the hope that their actions do nothing to damage any relationships.

Keep in mind that any person can use any and all of these behaviors when it suits them. People are not static, and circumstances change. No one behavior works for every conflict. Additionally, overcoming your tendencies and changing tactics does not guarantee that you will choose the right response to your conflict. Choosing the right response involves some knowledge and intention, which we will discuss in my next post.


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