Handling Conflict – The Competitive Style


By Tasha M. Troy

Conflict is a normal part of life.


The US Supreme Court

I often tell my students that whenever you have two people in the same room, you will have some measure of conflict.

While conflict may be inevitable, it is how we respond to that conflict that can make or break a relationship.


The Competitive Style

I once had a roommate who enjoyed a good argument.  Early in our time living together, she once picked a fight with me over something really trivial.  I got really stressed and upset, but she later explained that she was just having fun.  This was not fun to me!

She clearly had a competitive conflict-handling style.  She enjoyed the pushback of a good fight, and she didn’t take the contest of wills personally.

One of the five conflict-handling styles described by Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, the competitive style is usually characterized by a “winner take all” attitude and the use of force, power, or authority to impose a solution.

Often, those using a competitive style are seen in a negative light – the hard-nosed negotiator, the persistent salesman, the friend who always has to get the last word in.

Useful Points:

A competitive approach may be appropriate in times of emergency or when a unilateral decision needs to me made for the sake of time and efficiency.  There are times when a forceful approach is necessary and even may be the best way to approach an issue.

If a child wanted to run and play in the street, no one would criticize you for imposing your decision to play elsewhere upon that child.  Likewise, there are times when a leader may have more information about a situation when a quick decision needs to be made.


With that said, I recommend that this style be used sparingly.  When overused, it can damage trust and destroy relationships by violating all of the Five Core Concerns that are described by Dan Shapiro, the associate director of the Harvard Negotiation Project.  These Five Core Concerns zero in on the five emotional needs of any person you come in contact with:

1.  Appreciation – each person wants their efforts and experience to be recognized and appreciated.

2.  Autonomy – God made us with free will, and people tend to resent anyone who uses force, coercion, or manipulation to make them choose a course of action that they don’t want to choose.

3.  Affiliation – we are social creatures and all have a need to belong, to be a member of a group.

4.  Status – we all want to be treated with respect, no matter our position in the hierarchy

5.  Role – humanity is purpose-driven; we all want to know that our efforts are working towards a greater goal; we all want to have a part to play in whatever project is being pursued


Take It Deeper

If you want to maintain harmonious relationships, use the competing style rarely, only in truly emergency situations!

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net


Links and Resources

Conflict Resolution:  Resolving Conflict Rationally and Effectively

An article that explains the five conflict handling styles as well as the “Interest Based Relational Approach” to dealing with conflict, an approach based on the concepts of the book Getting to Yes by authors Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton

5 core concerns

Check out the rest of this series!

The Avoiding Style

The Accommodating Style

The Collaborative Style

The Compromising Style

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