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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Sept. 13, 2022

Tools you can use to help manage conflict in the workplace

By Elliott Colon, Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist, Civil Rights Directorate

Fostering a peaceful, collaborative, and supportive work environment for all Coast Guard personnel is essential to mission success. But no matter how familiar or compatible employees are with each other, conflict is sometimes inevitable. Typical reasons for why conflict occurs at work can include lack of communication, the blending of different personalities and perspectives, and uncertainties about job roles or responsibilities.  

There are five different approaches for managing and resolving conflict in the workplace: avoidance, accommodation, competing, compromise, and collaboration. By unpacking each method, you’ll better understand your own natural tendencies and how to use best practices the next time a disagreement might arise. Effectively managing and resolving conflicts can improve workplace communication, raise morale, and return focus to the mission. 


Avoidance is when neither of the parties involved take action to address the issue(s). It can be broken down into “physical distance” to prevent an argument altogether or “conversational distance” in avoiding the topic or denying a problem or sidestepping during a conversation to change the subject.   

This “lose-lose” scenario provides no clear path to resolution, and no one benefits from its outcome. Avoidance may, however, be the best option to prevent a physical fight, a workplace scene, or in a situation where leadership needs more time or resources to deal with the issue.   


Accommodating is often considered a “lose-win” scenario. It occurs when one party sets aside their needs to please others and maintain peace. This method puts a high value on connections and aims to protect the relationship rather than continuing to argue about the matter.   

The accommodation method is typically seen in situations where an individual doesn’t have as strong of an attachment to the issue as the other person and when prolonging the conflict is not worth the time. This method is one of the better choices to use when resolving a small conflict.  


Competing happens when opposing parties refuse to see the perspective of others and are willing to follow one’s own concerns at another’s expense. Such competition can either end in “Win-Lose” or “Lose-Lose” outcomes and may intensify further conflict in the future.   

Using this technique can work when the outcome is more important than the relationship or when there is no time to find a different solution. Competing does not help build relationships, however.   


Compromising gives each party member at least some of what they want, though, they’ll have to sacrifice some of their intentions or goals (“lose-lose”). In many situations, compromising can be the best and most timely solution.   

Compromising shows a willingness to make all parties feel comfortable with the solution, but it does not always work for every conflict. Sometimes, one party might feel that they sacrificed too much and may be unwilling to compromise in the future.   


Collaborating is the “Win-Win” solution where everyone in the party benefits. Those who choose to collaborate have a high degree of concern for all members of the team. This includes having honest discussions about important issues with each party and listening carefully to concerns expressed in a non-threatening environment.   

Collaborators look at solutions as “our way.” The purpose is to develop a suitable solution that satisfies everyone’s needs. Although collaboration might not work in every situation, it’s a target to work towards which can leave everyone satisfied.   

Putting it into practice   

Reviewing the conflict management styles together, let’s imagine an orange as a catalyst for dispute. A person may ignore the orange, though they secretly want it (avoidance). Another would give up the orange instead of causing a commotion (accommodate), with the spoils going to the victor (competing).   

Then there’s the idea of simply cutting it in half to share the fruit; but is everyone really satisfied (compromise)? What if there was more discussion about what each wants from the orange? Perhaps one wanted the rind for a recipe and the other wanted the fruit to eat (collaboration).   

Several factors can determine which conflict style will work best for each situation and looking at the circumstances before deciding which one to use is ideal. Picking the management style may be just as important as getting to the solution of a conflict or argument solution. Whatever the case, shifting the mindset to view conflict as a growth opportunity can ensure that positive outcomes are met.  

For questions on resolving conflicts, email the Alternative Dispute Resolution team or find your Civil Rights Service Provider.