Recognizing conflict styles in your family

Published 5:23 pm Sunday, March 6, 2016

QUESTION: Explain preference and back up conflict styles, please.

ANSWER: There are five basic conflict styles: aggressive, passive, accommodating, manipulating and problem-solving. We learn to use them by watching them used in our own families while growing up and because they fit our own temperaments. A “shark” uses aggressive words and actions. A “turtle” withdraws physically and emotionally. A “teddy bear” accommodates in order to end the tension. A “fox” uses lots of words to confuse or overwhelm. An “owl” wants to problem-solve and is a team player.

We all have a “first choice” in conflict management, the conflict style we go to first in an argument or confrontation. However, there is always at least one partner in conflict, which could be another adult, a teenager or a child. So, our “first choice” response is often blocked and we may be pushed into our “second choice” response, and sometimes that will occur rather quickly.

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It’s our “back up” responses that often take us by surprise and complicate relationships. A person who really wants to avoid conflict will withdraw; however, if he is backed into a corner by a partner who follows him and won’t stop talking, he may become really aggressive.

A person who responds to conflict with a lot of energy and words may become quickly accommodating when confronted with a partner’s aggression. An accommodating person may become aggressive if she feels tricked by a manipulating partner. A problem-solver may become passive and withdraw if others are aggressive, passive or manipulating. A person who is aggressive initially in a conflict may calm down in the presence of a problem-solver and become a problem-solver, too.

If you are a parent, conflict can become more productive in your home if you are aware of your own conflict preference and back up styles and understand the preference and back up styles occurring among the other members of your family.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child-raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out and free resources at the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library (105 First Street SE, Austin).