Support Strategies

Appreciated by Each Style

conflict styles support

Every style has strengths and weaknesses. Operating from style strengths and avoiding their weaknesses is a major goal of self-management in conflict. And wouldn't it be great if people we live and work with (after all, that's who we quarrel most with) did the same thing?

In fact, you can do a lot to support people around you to function from the strengths of their styles. This is an act of care for another person, for it requires you to take steps on their behalf. But it is also a form of self-care - when others function from their best, things improve for us too.

Below are suggested support strategies for each style. None is certain to work for everyone in that style, but many are surprisingly effective on an "average" basis. We suggest you begin first with yourself. That is, read the strategies suggested for your highest scoring style. Think about which of these strategies you would welcome others to use to support you. This is important self-knowledge, that may help you to communicate clearly to others what you need from them in times of difficulty.

Then broaden your knowledge by looking at styles you may not personally favor. In this way, you position yourself to support people you live or work with to function at a higher level, which ultimately improves the atmosphere around you.

Click on the tabs for support strategies for each style.

  • Directing
  • Harmonizing
  • Avoiding
  • Cooperating
  • Compromising

Support Strategies for People Who Favor Directing

Here are things that make it easier for someone who favors Directing to function from the strengths of the style and avoid the dangers of over-use:

  • People who score high in Directing tend to be task oriented. They are usually quite productive and concerned to get the job done. Engage them and let them know you are committed to the task at hand or to resolving the issue satisfactorily. If you need time to think things through or cool down, they are usually fine if you ask for this, so long as you indicate clearly a commitment to returning to resolve things. You will get a more positive response if you state specifically when you will come back (e.g., in an hour, or tomorrow at nine o’clock, etc).Though their task focus makes it easy to forget the feelings and needs of others, many Directors feel deeply responsible for those around them and may feel quite bad if they realize they have wounded them. It is sometimes useful for Directors to be reminded about the needs of others, but choose the setting with care, so they are not in the middle of a big job.
  • Directors usually prefer to deal with things immediately and get anxious when others are silent or passive. Don’t withdraw without giving some clue about your intentions. Lack of information about this will increase their anxiety and anger.
  • A Directing person who is angry can be quite intimidating, for this style is the most active, and “in your face” when anger is high. If this person has a history of abusing others emotionally or otherwise and holds more power than you, look for a path to safety or shelter. If the person is basically healthy emotionally, simply asking for a chance to cool off and think often helps, so long as you state clearly your intention to return and work on things.

Support Strategies for People Who Favor Harmonizing

Here are things that make it easier for someone who favors Harmonizing to function from the strengths of the style and avoid the dangers of over-use:

Harmonizers want to please and be pleased. Pay attention to small social niceties. More than any other style, Harmonizers will be positively affected by gestures of thoughtfulness – a kind note, an appreciative comment, flowers, a chocolate bar, a card, etc.

You will get more cooperativeness in doing serious work with Harmonizers if you use a two-step approach. First, connect with them at a human level. Ask how they are doing, inquire about a family member, tease a little, thank them for something, etc. Then, and only then, settle down to business. The human connection comes before work for Harmonizers (an insight that is especially easy for task-oriented Directors to forget).

Stay light. Seriousness or heaviness in others quickly stirs anxiety in Harmonizers and makes it hard for them to focus or stay on task. Use humor. Be affirmative. Appreciate the relationship or their good qualities out loud if you can honestly do so.

Assure Harmonizers repeatedly that you really want to know their preferences and views. Thank them sincerely if they do level with you. If they bring criticism, thank them generously, for it requires great effort for Harmonizers to be direct with criticism. Reward their candor with warmth; if you do not, candor from their side will disappear from the relationship.

In meetings or extended conversations with Harmonizers, take breaks and lighten up on a regular basis. Long, heavy discussion unsettles Harmonizers and pushes them to unhelpful places more quickly than other styles.

Support Strategies for People Who Favor Avoiding

Here is information useful for people around someone who favors Avoiding. The goal is to make it easier for the Avoider to function from the strengths of the style and avoid the dangers of over-use:

  • Avoiders benefit more than any other style from an offer of time or space to withdraw and think things through.
  • You are more likely to get a “yes” answer about anything you need from them if you use a “two-step” approach. The first step is to let Avoiders know - in thoughtful tones - what you want (or at least that you'd like to have a discussion) and that you’d like them to think about it. Then come back later - an hour, a day, a week - and hear their response.
  • Stay low-key. The more intense or demanding you are, the more likely the Avoider will go into major withdrawal.
  • There is a significant subgroup of conflict Avoiders who are actually quite task focused, but in a particular way. They bring a high level of caution and attention to detail to everything they do and they are concerned not to put important things at risk. These Avoiders need data and information, presented in a calm and methodical way, in order to comfortably enter negotiations. Look for ways to provide them with relevant details, about plans, options, costs, rules, precedents from elsewhere, expected results, how surprises will be dealt with, etc. If possible, give them time to absorb this information before expecting them to negotiate. See two-step approach above.
  • Haste in decision making tends to push Avoiders into withdrawal or analysis paralysis. Move slowly, one step at a time.

Support Strategies for People Who Favor Cooperating

Here is information useful for people around someone who favors Cooperating. The goal is to make it easier for the Cooperator to function from the strengths of the style and avoid the dangers of over-use:

  • Feeling heard helps all styles, but Cooperators respond particularly well to efforts to structure conversation around listening. Hear them out fully and you are likely to be surprised at how well they listen to you in response. If you know the skill of "active listening" or paraphrasing, use it (unless you see that it annoys the other person; though most people appreciate paraphrasing skillfully done, a minority find it obtrusive and annoying).
  • Most Cooperators respect directness and candor, so long as you are polite. Saying what you want and need will be appreciated, particularly if you manage to say it in an attitude of “providing information about what matters most to me” rather than criticizing or making demands.
  • Stay connected and do not back off too quickly from your own views. Especially if you are a Harmonizer or Avoider, resist the temptation to back off from an assertive Cooperator. Yes, Cooperators do speak out, but they see their own expression of views as only one part of the process. They truly want to hear your views too. If you are silent or too quick to agree, the Cooperator ends up feeling like a Director, which is not at all the intention.
  • Bring a blend of task and relationship focus to the conversation. Affirm work well done.
  • Like the directing style, Cooperators particularly appreciate information about what is going on, and tend to become anxious or upset if others pull away without signalling their intentions. Withdrawing if you need space is fine, so long as you give a clear explanation that you are committed to ongoing conversation, such as, “I want to go for a walk for half an hour to think things through. Then I’ll come back and we can talk some more.” More examples:
    - An Avoider who needs to step back and prepare inwardly for a difficult conversation being proposed by a Cooperator might say, "I want you to know that I reccognize we need to talk this through. I want to be at my best when we do that, and I'd like to ask that we plan to discuss it tomorrow at 2 after the staff meeting."
    - A Harmonizer who is overwhelmed with a first round of conversation (Cooperators tend to have a lot of energy for long processing of issues and to assume that everyone else does as well.) might say, "I'm really worn out by this last half hour of discussion. Could we agree to take a break and continue tomorrow evening?" (A really self-aware and confident Harmonizer might take steps to meet his or her own needs by adding: "And could we plan to spend the first 15 minutes just drinking coffee and catching up a little on our lives? That would help me a lot to feel connected to you as a human being before we dive into this decision again."

Support Strategies for People Who Favor Compromising

Here is information useful for people around someone who favors Compromising. The goal is to make it easier for the Compromiser to function from the strengths of the style and avoid the dangers of over-use:

Compromisers have a strong sense of reciprocity. More than other styles, they are likely to respond in kind if you back off somewhat from your initial position. Leave room to negotiate for yourself when you make your opening request.

  • Compromisers value fairness and moderation. Think and speak in terms of “being fair”, “fair play”, “reasonable”, “you give some, I give some”, “give and take”, etc.
  • Compromisers tend to value efficiency of time and energy and are eager to find a way through to a practical solution that ends the difficulty. A sense that a fair and moderate deal was achieved probably matters more than talking through all options.
  • Compromisers benefit from reassurance that the discussion will not drag on endlessly. If you are wanting to use the Cooperating style with a Compromiser and get a lukewarm response to your proposal to talk things through, suggest a limited time frame for discussion. For example, "Let's have a ten minute discussion of our differences" or "Let's agree to spend the first hour looking at both sides of the issue, and then try to make a decision" or "As a group, let's agree to meet three times. The first time to hear all sides of the issue, the second time to make a decision, and the third time to work out implementation."
  • As the Compromiser does not enjoy prolonged debate, a determined partner in Directing style may, with strong logic, be able to persuade her she is wrong, creating an appearance the more forceful person has “won”. However, the victory may be hollow. The Compromiser’s deep inner sense that conclusions should be reciprocal and balanced will be disturbed. Trust,openness and cooperativeness will suffer on the long-term. Find concessions for the Compromiser, even if you are sure your argument is stronger.

As you get familiar with the styles, you will find you can recognize style preferences even in strangers, and you will have useful clues for how to respond in situations that previously confounded you.

Go to a template enabling easy editing of the information above so you can create a MySupport Page of strategies that work best for you.