Little Acts of Conflict

Dear Reader,

What is your conflict orientation? I recently learned about 3 orientations to conflict: yielding (low assertiveness/high cooperativeness), problem solving (high assertiveness/high cooperativeness), and contending (high assertiveness/low cooperativeness). In short, those who have a “yielding” orientation are more likely to back down/ give in, those with a “problem-solving” orientation are more likely to pursue mutually beneficial solutions, and those with a “contending” orientation are more likely to be uncooperative.

I had a little conflict of my own recently. At the office, there is a refrigerator where we are allowed to store food/ beverage items. The only real rules are that we need to label our items and make sure to clear out old food. My office mate and I often share a bag that we use to store food in the refrigerator. We always make sure to label it with our program’s name. One day, I pulled out our bag and found a handwritten note inside. The note was anonymous. The author asked us to be considerate about taking up too much shared space. Although the note was friendly in tone, it came off as rather passive-aggressive.

By leaving us an anonymous note the writer denied himself/herself the opportunity to problem solve. The bag in question, as I have stated, is a shared bag. It is about roughly twice the size of two lunch boxes, but as this bag accommodates two people, the space shouldn’t really be a problem. Interestingly, the only reason we use a bag in the first place is because we had a food item stolen from us a few weeks earlier. In the past, when we confronted our office manager about the theft, she told us to consider using some sort of packaging like a lunch box. I would love to explain these points about our bag to the anonymous writer, but alas, there is no opportunity.

Negotiation literature

What should I do, Dear Reader? If I keep on using the same bag, I will probably end up annoying my office mate (who is liable to take further action). I do not want to stop using the bag; it doesn’t really make sense for my office mate and I to get separate bags that will just end up occupying the same amount of space. I could pen an office-wide email or stick a note to the refrigerator to explain the situation to the anonymous writer, however, that is certainly too petty. So, I guess I will just do nothing!

There is one last conflict orientation that I neglected to mention– Inaction ( low assertiveness/ low cooperation). I chose to do nothing. 

By penning an anonymous letter, the writer took a “contending” conflict orientation (i.e. they choose to be assertive yet uncooperative). In essence, the writer decided that there was a problem (i.e. the size of the bag) and there was also one solution (change the bag or get rid of it). By neglecting to attach a name to the letter the author lost out on opportunities to find a mutually beneficial solution. If the author would have taken a “problem-solving” approach by attaching a name to the note or knocking on our office door, I’m sure my office mate and I could have explained the situation and then the three of us could have discussed steps forward.

Conflict is inevitable. Whether you choose to contend, problem solve, yield, or take zero action, it is important to understand how the consequences of your decisions can affect the issue at hand. I hope you do not find yourself in a conflict situation anytime soon, Dear Reader, however, if you do, try problem solving 🙂



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