The 5 Conflict Languages

Many people have heard of the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, but have you heard of the 5 Conflict Languages by Thomas Kilmann? Learn the 5 Conflict resolution techniques. Understand how our children resolve disputes and help them learn how to negotiate, compromise, and collaborate for a winning outcome!

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The 5 Conflict Languages

My two teenagers are screaming at each other. One is crying, and the other is pointing fingers. Every day there is nagging, lectures, and I have to break up fights…. It’s all exhausting and in the end, guess who gets the blame? ME! Yep, my kids plead for justice from me. “Mom, help me get my sister off my back,” “Mom, make my brother stop yelling at me,” “Mom, can you help me?” 

Sibling rivalry and family conflict are unavoidable but understanding how your kids instinctively respond to a conflict will help you approach conflict resolution better! Many people have heard of the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, but have you heard of the 5 Conflict Languages by Thomas Kilmann?

Hello, my name is Kristina Campos. I am the founder of the Impactful Parent. Every week I give you parenting videos that can help you in your parenting journey. If you have a particular topic or parenting question about your school-aged child that you would like me to address, please submit it at [email protected] or by messaging me on social media. All submissions are kept anonymous. 

Today I will teach you the 5 Conflict Languages. Thomas Kilmann published that there are 5 ways that people try to resolve conflict. I will explain what each conflict language is, the pros and cons of each conflict language, and stick around to the end because I will also be giving you Impactful Parent tips along the way! Let’s get started!

5 Conflict languages

5 Conflict languages

Conflict Language #1- Accommodating

This conflict style is popular with kids who are “people pleasers” and kids who simply don’t care too much about the issue. Maybe they don’t care about the problem because the child has a laid-back personality, or perhaps the outcome of the conflict doesn’t bother them either way. The accommodating conflict language means that the child will put others’ needs before theirs. The child doesn’t mind letting the opposing party get their way. Sometimes children will also be accommodators when they don’t want to deal with the issue because it’s not worth their time or they avoid being wrong. Children with perfectionistic personalities often accommodate when they feel the stakes are too high to be corrected. They find it better to accommodate so they can say, “Oh- that’s what I thought, but I didn’t want to tell you.” It’s a way of staying “safely correct.”

The good thing about accommodating conflict language is that it can easily avoid disputes. This leaves more time for other things, and your child won’t be considered argumentative because disagreements will be over quickly.

The bad thing about accommodating conflict language is the child can come off as a push-over. The children with stronger opinions can take advantage of the accommodating child’s easy-going-ness. Also, over time, accommodating children can become resentful because they seldom get their way.

Impactful Parent Tip: The accommodating child should be encouraged to respectfully speak their mind and express their opinions. Encourage their voice. Help children navigate conflict when they play with others. Keep track of how often the child is accommodating to others. Be aware when your child is starting to feel resentful for continuingly giving in to a sibling or friend?

Conflict Language #2- Compromising

Teaching your child to compromise is a necessary skill. Most parents teach compromising in the early toddler years at playdates with toys; however, the compromising conflict style can also frustrate a child when they rely on it too often. The compromising conflict language is also called the “Lose-Lose” conflict language. Everyone in the conflict must give up something they want to find a middle ground. Many children use this conflict resolution style with their peers because that is what they were taught first. School teachers also encourage compromising solutions in the classroom. It is the most ingrained of the 5 styles, so therefore the most practiced, but that is not to say it is the easiest to implement.

The good side of compromising conflict language is that most children are familiar with it. Asking school-aged children to compromise will likely get some eye rolls. Still, the children expect intervening adults to resort to this conflict resolution style. Also, the compromising tactic encourages the child to hear the other’s perspective, wants, and needs. It forces children to listen to each other. If done correctly, your child should feel heard even though they still have to give up something they want.

The downside of compromising conflict language is that it can cause resentment if used too often. No one leaves the conflict feeling completely happy. Children often complain that they gave up more than the opposing party did. Children also get tired of compromising.

5 Conflict languages

5 Conflict languages

Impactful Parent Tip: Teach compromise in the early years; however, don’t use it too often. Try to mix up the conflict resolution styles when using them so that compromise isn’t always the default. Compromise is best used when the child doesn’t care too strongly about the issue, and the conflict needs to be resolved quickly. Also, be mindful that your child is giving up equal amounts as the opposing party so that resentment doesn’t fester.

Conflict Language #3- Avoiding

Children afraid of conflict or the results of a conflict will often resort to avoiding the conflict altogether. These children are peacemakers, or they are acting upon their fears. Either way, the avoiding conflict style is usually only prolonging the inevitable.

The good side of avoiding conflict language is that it can be effective IF a cool-down period would be helpful in the situation. For example, if children need a little time to calm down their emotions or time to process their thoughts, or perhaps they need some time to step back and see the big picture.

The downside of avoiding conflict language comes when the conflict is avoided indefinitely or for too long. Avoiding conflict can result in making things worse. Lastly, avoiders of conflict are often unassertive. These children have a fear that if they engage, then the future will be worse.

Impactful Parent Tip: Children should be encouraged NOT to avoid conflict forever. Remember that many children who avoid conflict are scared for some reason. Maybe they are afraid of a potential outcome, getting yelled at, feeling unloved or unlikeable, or any other large assortment of reasons. Parents should be mindful of these fears and help children face their fears of conflict by helping them with their conflict resolution. Parents who encourage their child’s voice and provide their children with a safe space to express themselves, their opinions, and their emotions will often also help them feel safe enough to stand up for themselves.

5 Conflict languages

5 Conflict languages

Conflict Language #4- Collaborating

The collaborating conflict language is arguably the best conflict resolution technique because it yields the most win-win results for everyone involved. Best used when the solution/outcome is essential to everyone or when it is crucial to keep everyone’s relationship in good standing. With the collaborating conflict language, each person must express their wants, needs, and concerns. Usually, this means that the children must sit down together and talk through the conflict by negotiating a solution that everyone feels good about. I’d like to point out that, unlike the compromising conflict language where everyone gives up a piece of what they want to find common ground and leaves everyone feeling like they had to “give up” something they wanted to find a solution, collaborating conflict language has children come to a common ground through brainstorming solutions that make everyone involved feel good about the outcome.

The good side of the collaborating conflict language is that it is considered a “win-win” solution. Everyone leaves happy, relationships often leave stronger, and kids learn to work together toward an agreed outcome. The majority of the time, this conflict language yields the best results.

The downside of the collaborating conflict language is that it is time-consuming. Most children will need a mediator (aka an adult) to help them problem solve, brainstorm, talk respectfully to each other, and negotiate without animosity. Sometimes, kids also have difficulty with the collaborating processes because it takes a long time. So, if you need to find a resolution in a hurry, this is not your best option.

Impactful Parent Tip: When given the time, practice this conflict resolution technique as often as possible and in the early childhood years. Not only is this the best-case scenario conflict resolution style, but the skills your child will learn through the collaborating conflict language will be valuable for years to come. Skills like patients, listening to the other side’s point of view, working with someone who has opposing views, the ability to articulate your own point of view with conviction and evidence, and more. Teaching this to children will take time and lots of practice. Many parents don’t have the patients to sit and help children talk things out to a resolution because it is so time consuming, however try your best to be patient with the long process that will need to be practiced often because the results yield dividends for years to come.

Conflict Language #5- Competing

The competing conflict language is the opposite of collaboration. This language technique rejects compromise, doesn’t listen to others’ points of view, stands firm in one person’s opinion, and does not give in to others’ wants, needs, or desires. When a child is using competing language, they will not give in or back down. They are quite literally competing for the 100% win.

The good side of the competing language technique is that a solution is often found more quickly. Since there is no space for disagreement or conversation, someone usually wins the argument quickly.

The downside of the competing language technique is that relationships will be hurt and lost over such rigid thinking and behaviors. Your child will lose friends, hurt people’s feelings, and children that use this technique are often considered bullies. Other kids won’t tolerate this kind of behavior long because everyone else’s needs are usually ignored. Resentment builds up fast.

Impactful Parent Tip: Be mindful of older children using this technique with younger children. This happens because the older child can get away with it.

Also, keep in mind that children who are not practiced in compromising or collaborating conflict languages will use the competing technique instead. This should be a red flag that your might be unfamiliar or not practiced with listening to others. Younger children default to this technique because of precisely that. Listening to others’ points of view and brainstorming solutions are more complex skills than standing firm and holding your ground. If you see your child always defaulting to the competing conflict language, consider that they may not know any other way of conflict resolution or at least aren’t practiced enough in the different conflict resolution styles to feel confident enough to practice them on their own. This is a great opportunity for you to step-in, spend some time with your child, listen to his points of view, and teach him how to collaborate and compromise! Now is the perfect time to turn a conflict into a lesson in self-awareness and resolution.

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 But until next time, you got this, parents. I am just here to help.

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