In a speech that was published in the “Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,” psychology professor Israel W. Charny points out that the most important thing to understand about families is not how they prevent conflicts but how they resolve them. The way families manage their conflicts affects how children learn to deal with problems they will face outside the family and in the families they will create. Understanding conflict management styles helps people realize that they have a choice regarding how to cope with conflict.
Collaboration and Compromise
When family members collaborate or compromise, they look for solutions that are best for all and that do not leave anyone feeling left out or unsupported. In other words, solutions are “I win-you win.” Compromise is a temporary solution to a problem and involves both parties agreeing to give something up for the sake of immediate peace. Collaboration, on the other hand, is a process that takes time, where family members agree to be patient and work out a long-term solution that eventually will be satisfactory to everyone. Collaboration is the healthiest approach to conflicts.
Some families are characterized by competitiveness. They are preoccupied with winning and feel that losing or not getting one's own way is a sign of weakness. This is an aggressive conflict resolution style where solutions are in the form of “I win-you lose.” All families play games or have races to see who gets to the table first, for example, but in this kind of family, it is not a friendly race but a serious one where the loser may be badly humiliated. Disagreements may become war zones in families that cope with conflict competitively.
Some families are afraid of conflict, and one or more members will give in to prevent fights from getting too intense. In the workbook, "The Conflict Resolution Training Program,” acquiescence is described as caring more about keeping peace than about having one’s needs met. It's an “I lose-you win” situation. People who constantly give in to others at their own expense are afraid they are not loved if they are not serving others. Families with this kind of conflict resolution style are imbalanced, with some members wielding an unhealthy degree of power over others.
Some families feel so threatened by discord that they avoid conflict at all costs, refusing to talk about sensitive topics. This is an “I lose-you lose” situation because nothing can ever be resolved. More important, as reported in the January 2013 issue of the journal “Psychology,” teenagers in conflict-avoidant families suffer psychological distress and lower life satisfaction than their peers; an article published in 2012 in the journal “Personal Relationships” reports that children raised in conflict-avoidant families do not develop a sense of family loyalty.
Complexities in Family Conflict Styles
In their book “Expert Mediators,” Jean Poitras and Susan Raines point out that different cultures encourage different interpersonal norms of behavior, leading them to favor different conflict resolution styles. Furthermore, a family may use one conflict management style for easy problems and a different style for serious problems. The men may favor a style of conflict resolution that the women of the family avoid, and vice versa. A study published in 2011 in the “Journal of Youth and Adolescence” reports that teenagers naturally change the way they handle conflicts as they grow and mature.