Home » Advice, Attitude, Business Presentations, Coaching, Conflict, Management » Four Types of Responses to Conflict Within a Team

Four Types of Responses to Conflict Within a Team

Few of us like conflict.  But conflict happens.  And when it does we are faced with a variety of decisions about how we will respond.

I received a note yesterday that warmed my heart.  Some of your know that I teach a course on Eastern Religions for a well known national university.  And the mixture of religious beliefs held by students in that class is always fascinating.  We have Christians, of course (although of all stripes and of all levels of commitment). But we also regularly have Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans, Pagans (capital “P” Pagans), Unitarian-Universalists as well as others.  We also have lots of seekers and atheists.

It is a fun environment in which to work.  But by the very nature of the subject matter, there is potential for conflict.   Fortunately, we have usually been able to keep the discourse on a positive note and a high level.  I do not hide that I am a Christian and will (when appropriate) give an explanation and defense of my views.  But mostly that isn’t my role.

Yesterday I got a note from a student who openly self-identifies as an atheist.  (He really is a bright and delightful student to have in class).  But in a forum posting yesterday, we were talking about the Five Relationships of Confucianism.  One of those five is “Older-Younger” (“All older people have responsibility for younger people, because younger people need care, support, and character formation. This means, as well, that younger people must show respect to those older than themselves and be open to their advice.”) (Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions, 5th edition.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. pp. 239-240)

I asked about younger people being willing to accept older adults as mentors.  I didn’t think it would happen much in our culture.  The student I referred to above wrote:

“I feel that you have been a good mentor to myself [sic] and others in this short amount of time, as you seem to respect my viewpoints, no matter how often we disagree; you take the time to patiently answer questions while assuming the positive intent of others; and you seem to enjoy considering points of view that are different or even contradictory to your own philosophies.  That mutual respect is the key to true mentorship in my opinion.”

When I read that, it made me smile, of course, but it also reminded me of a diagram that I had seen from Tom Cox.  Tom is a business consultant.  I have met him (and evaluated one of his speeches) at the Feedbackers Toastmasters club of which I am a part.   (for those of you in Oregon, if that name sounds familiar, it is probably because Tom ran for Oregon Attorney General in 2000 and for Governor in 2002, both times as a Libertarian.)  He did a presentation at Leadership ‘11 in which he shared this diagram.

Tom talks about two ways we can respond to conflict.  Either:

“You disagree with me and I find that threatening.”


“You disagree with me and I find that interesting.”

In his diagram, Tom lays out the four-square diagram somewhat similar to the one I had a few months back with I talked about the presentation by Rory Vaden. This one, however, deals with conflict and how we choose to respond to it.

The four responses relate to the four quadrants to the right:Conflict Foursquare

Active/Constructive (1)

Active Destructive (2)

Passive Destructive (3)

Passive Constructive (4)

Here are ways we can choose to respond in a conflictual situation according to each of the four possible responses:

Active/Constructive (1)

  • Taking the other person’s perspecive
  • Creating Solutions
  • Expressing Emotions Responsibly
  • Reaching Out

Active Destructive (2)

  • Winning at all costs
  • Displaying Anger
  • Demeaning Others
  • Retaliating
  • Intention invention

Passive Destructive (3)

  • Avoiding
  • Yielding
  • Hiding Emoitions
  • Self-criticising
  • Working Around People

Passive Constructive (4)

  • Assuming Positive Intention
  • Reflective Thinking
  • Delay Responding
  • Adapting to multiple win conditions.

I believe that this is an excellent tool.  When I am facing a conflictual situation, either personally or as a group, if I can learn to visualize this diagram and think through what my natural response would be (usually it is #3) and actively seeking to replace it with #1 or #4 (depending on the situation), I will be able to be more of an instrument of peace in those situations.

Thoughts on this…?


Tom Cox. (2011) Peak Performance Through Team Trust and  Constructive Conflict. Unpublished Handout.

You can find out more about Tom’s work at www.coxbusinesssconsulting.com.

Advice, Attitude, Business Presentations, Coaching, Conflict, Management

2 Comments to “Four Types of Responses to Conflict Within a Team”

  1. Carl, thanks for finding this valuable and sharing it. I have to add two things — one is, that I built on the work of others, and they deserve enormous credit. I have a long list of sources on my Team Trust page (mentioned next) – the two most influential are:

    “Trust is Everything: Become the Leader Others will Follow” by Aneil and Karen Mishra

    “Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively” by Tim Flanagan and Craig Runde

    The other is, the handout you mention above is available for download on my Team Trust resource page:

Leave a Reply