Are You a Teddy Bear, a Turtle, a Shark, a Fox or an Owl when Dealing With Conflict?

Uncategorized Sep 22, 2015

‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom’ ~ Victor Frankl

There are five basic ways that people behave when they respond to conflict:

  • Forcing
  • Accommodating
  • Avoiding
  • Compromising
  • Cooperating

Your style may change depending on the situation you find yourself in or on the intensity of the conflict. It’s no use to judge people for their particular style. However you will find that some styles deal more constructively with conflict than others and that the consequences for your relationship with the other person and for your relationship with yourself differ per style.

The styles are linked to animals and even though we commonly use more than one style, we tend to have a dominant one.

Forcing (Shark)

If you have a forcing style you see conflict as a competition, complete with winners and losers. And because of your competitive nature, you definitely want to be on the winning side. You concentrate on your own needs and are less concerned with the needs of others. In this style you decide to go for the ‘I Win - You Lose’ option.

Your communication style will come across as aggressive and intimidating. People see you as someone with little or no respect for others.

The advantage of this conflict style is that you get what you want in a quick and easy way and it is clear for everyone who is in charge.

However the price you pay is a damaged or destroyed relationship. The other person whose needs are not met will be upset, even if they do not share this with you. They likely will hold a grudge against you, and this will fester.

People can build and hold resentment over a long period of time. However, and maybe when you will least expect it, the grudge bearer will pay you back by undermining you in subtle ways, or confronting you openly when triggered.

So your ‘I Win - You Lose’ approach can be counterproductive.

Accommodating (Teddy Bear)

If you have an accommodating style when confronted with conflict, you perceive conflict as an uncomfortable situation that needs to be resolved in a peaceful way as quickly as possible. Because conflict distresses you, you will do anything in your power to make it disappear. You have little desire to win the conflict; in fact you would rather give in than make a big fuss so that everyone can move on and go back to business as usual.

In this style you opt for the ‘You Win - I Lose’ option.

Your communication style will come across as diplomatic and friendly; you won’t ruffle any feathers. People see you as a people pleaser who goes along with the suggestions and needs of others.

The advantage of this style is that any conflict in your life is solved quickly. Also, by letting go of your own needs you don’t have to engage in difficult and painful conversations with others. You find it important to be liked by others and as long as they get their way they will like you. The relationships you have with others remain intact and all seems well – on the surface that is. 

The disadvantage is that by focusing on the needs of others you ignore your own. The price you pay is that you feel bad about not standing up for yourself. You basically sacrifice your own needs for the sake of harmony with the people around you.

Resenting yourself affects your self-esteem over time. Your failure to express your needs eats away at you and causes stress. You may feel that people use you and walk all over you. In addition, your relationships remain superficial because you don’t tell people what is important for you.

This style can therefore be quite harmful for your own well-being.

Avoiding (Turtle)

If you have an avoiding style when confronted with conflict, you actually don’t want to know about the conflict at all. In fact you hope that by ignoring the conflict it may just go away. So you pretend that there is no conflict by withdrawing, walking away or delaying any discussion and saying to yourself: ‘What conflict?’ You think that by being silent you can save the relationship.

By using this style you opt for an ‘I Lose, You Lose’ situation.

Your communication is virtually non-existent. You don’t talk and refrain from expressing your needs or discussing the other person’s needs.

The advantage of this style is that you fool yourself for a while into the belief that there is no conflict.

The disadvantage is that it is frustrating for everyone involved. By not engaging with each other nobody’s needs are expressed or met; neither your own needs nor the needs of the other person. The result of such non-communication is that the already shallow relationship suffers a serious break-down.

In this situation all parties miss out. Not just you but also the other person as it is frustrating for them not to have an opportunity to clarify issues and talk about needs, no matter how hard they try.

As for you, you know deep down inside that avoiding the conflict does not make it magically disappear. Like the accommodator you will feel bad about not being able to stand up for yourself and express your needs. This will have a negative impact on your self-esteem and self-worth and you worry that people may perceive you as weak.

So this ‘I Lose – You Lose’ approach is disadvantageous for all involved.

Compromising (Fox)

If you have a compromising style you do acknowledge conflict and you are keen to solve it, sooner rather than later. You believe that in every conflict people have to give and take a bit. If the parties can meet halfway you can all agree and move on while the relationship remains intact. Because of your eagerness to find a quick solution you look for different options and trade-offs that can be used to satisfy all.

This style’s slogan is ‘I Win Some - I Lose Some / You Win Some – You Lose Some,’

Your communication style is fairly shallow because you don’t truly connect with the other person as you are so focused on finding solutions. So there is no clarification about your own needs and the needs of others.

The advantage of this style is that you solve the conflict in a relatively quick process:   there is a conflict, people come together, meet each other half way, give a bit and take a bit, find an agreement and get on with their lives.

The disadvantage however is that although it may look as though the conflict has been resolved, in the end neither party actually knows what the other party needs. Another disadvantage is that nobody got what they need and each has settled for less than what they hoped for. So in fact there are winners and losers on both sides.

So this ‘I Win Some and I Lose Some – You Win Some and You Lose Some’ approach can be disadvantageous for all involved.

Cooperating (Owl)

If you have a cooperating style you see conflict as an opportunity to clarify issues, to learn from each other and to grow as an individual. It is important for you to not only explain where you are coming from and what your issues are, but also to fully understand what is vital for the other person. You prefer an open and honest conversation so everyone’s needs are integrated. The relationship is important and you wish for a win-win outcome for everyone.

You opt for an ‘I Win – You Win’ approach.

As a co-operator your communication style is assertive and open. You are not afraid to stand up for yourself and your needs in a respectful way and at the same time you are willing to respectfully listen to the other person and their needs.

The advantage of this style is that it is beneficial for relationships as parties respect each other and all needs are equally valued. The open and honest communication allows both parties to gain a better understanding of all issues at play.

The disadvantage is that it can take a long time to discuss all issues. Also some people may misconstrue your consulting approach as that of a ‘weak’ leader who can’t make decisions..


There should be no judgment about the different conflict styles, they simply are. It may not come as a surprise that the cooperating conflict style is preferred. However it is not always appropriate or feasible to use this style and there is a time and a place for each conflict style.

For example, in case of an emergency there is a need for a forcing approach to conflict. In some circumstances it is best to avoid conflict altogether, or to accommodate people. Furthermore in some situations a compromise is the most feasible solution.

It is essential to recognize and understand the different conflict styles and their consequences. The style you choose has certain consequences for your relationships and your self-worth.

When you know your dominant style it may be worthwhile at times to move out of your comfort zone and adapt your style to avoid escalation of the conflict or to handle it more efficiently.

Equally if you recognize the style of the other person you may be able to adapt your strategy how to deal with the conflict.

This is an amended extract of my book Dealing with Conflict at Work (You can download the kindle version via Amazon)

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