Conflict Styles

Using the Conflict Styles Model in Mediation

This model is one that I often share with clients when I am mediating. I find it helpful to talk through with clients to help them to identify the approach (or approaches) they are taking to the current conflict.

How to use the Conflict Styles Model in Mediation

I print up the model and have it in my mediators kit or draw it on one of the blank pieces of paper I use during mediation to write my notes on.

During the pre-mediation I talk through the model with the client explaining that in mediation we are seeking ideally to reach a point where the parties can reach a collaborative agreement.

By that I mean an agreement where both of them get what they need in terms of their working relationship and in solving the problems that have led to the dispute or conflict they are experiencing.


What conflict style are you using?

Clients generally find it quite easy to identify the conflict style that they are using.  The original developers of the model used assertiveness and cooperative as the two dimensions of the model but sometimes people misunderstand the meaning of those words. 

I find that using the term focus (what are you paying attention to) and needs is helpful with all clients regardless of their educational background.

Often people want to think that they are being cooperative but if they can’t tell me what the other person wants or needs then they are not!

It might mean that they have not asked or that the other person doesn’t feel that it is safe to tell them.

Once we have looked at the style that they are using at the moment in the current conflict I work with them to prepare for the mediation based on that.

How to prepare clients for mediation

As a mediator the more a client is prepared for mediation the more likely it is that the process will flow smoothly and the clients will be able to negotiate a collaborative agreement.

In workplace mediation the current trend seems to be pre-mediation meeting in the morning and mediation session in the afternoon. That is not my preferred approach as it doesn’t give the clients much time to reflect on the discussion during the pre-mediation session or to consult with their advisors. I do contract work for workplace mediation so I don’t control that aspect of the process.

In family law mediations I always leave time between pre-mediation to give clients time to get legal advice and discuss with family members.

My objective is that they understand their options and the cost of alternatives to reaching an agreement. That way they are realistic about what they want and need and are able to better hear and understand what the other person wants and needs.

What people want

I find that what people ask for is generally pretty reasonable.

In terms of their interpersonal relationship they want to be treated with respect. That means not being spoken to sarcastically or in a way that makes them feel bad. It means paying attention to their needs and wishes and not imposing your values on them and being willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and not make negative assumptions without asking them for clarification.

Easy things to do when you are not in conflict but quite hard if you are feeling negatively about someone.

By using the Conflict Styles model and other models we can have a conversation about these types of things without blame or recriminations.

It is a normal thing to either accommodate or avoid if there is a power imbalance but not being willing to express or ask for what you need is self-defeating behaviour and has no place in the mediation room. If the power imbalance is so great that expressing what you need form the other party could result in harm mediation should not occur and another resolution process should be used.

Likewise a person who has a lot of power in the relationship either due to their role in the organisation or their personal power may feel that they can make the other person do what they want. Sometimes people have been taught this style of positional bargaining and don’t even think about the negative downside of forcing an agreement on someone else. With a bit of education about the benefits of collaboration  most people are willing to at least listen to what the other person wants and needs.

I find that this sets the foundation for a productive mediation process.

Are you interested in becoming a professional mediator?

Mediation Institute is a recognised mediator accreditation body. We offer a flexible and accessible online course for NMAS Mediator Accreditation and also the CHC81115 – Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution for those interested in Family Law Mediation.

What models do you use in your mediation?

If you are already a professional mediator I’d be very happy to host a blog post from you on the Mediation Institute Website about any models or diagrams that you use in mediation with clients. Send me an email or call to discuss.


Using the Conflict Styles Model in Mediation

by Joanne Law time to read: 3 min