In a previous blog[i], I asked whether Moderates and Progressives can learn to “work together.” Given the significant differences between them, the broader question is whether they can they learn to “live together.” While Progressives played a key role in President Biden’s victory and early successes, it’s putting it mildly to say that things have turned South in recent days.
Take Climate Change. While both Moderates and Progressives agree that it’s a major problem that needs immediate attention, Progressives insist that it has to be at the center of any deal, or there’s no deal at all. Once again, it’s no exaggeration to say that they’re in a state of prolonged Conflict. The key question is what if anything can be done to resolve it?
As noted previously, my good friend and life-long colleague Ralph H. Kilmann, and his collaborator Ken Thomas, have developed the most comprehensive approach to the management of Conflict. It shows in no uncertain terms the psychological processes that need to be mastered if one is not just to be able to work together productively, but more importantly, live together harmoniously.
To recall, two dimensions are key to the Kilmann-Thomas framework. They are best understood in terms of a pie. The first dimension deals with how much of a pie a person wants to have solely for him or herself. The second deals with how much of the pie one is willing to give to another. The first dimension is thus best captured by the catchphrase “Get,” and the second as “Give.”
Whatever the issue, if one always strives to “get the whole pie solely for oneself,” then one’s Conflict handling style is Competing. If on the other hand, “one habitually gives the pie to another,” then one is Accommodating. If both parties avoid a Conflict situation altogether, and hence neither one of them gets any of the pie, then they are Avoiders. If both parties are satisfied with half of the pie, then they are Compromisers. Finally, if both parties are willing to work together as Collaborators, then in principle they can expand the pie such that both get a full one.
Notice how each of these plays a key role in making important decisions. If one party is clearly an expert in a critical area, then Accommodating to her or him is not only appropriate, but best. By the same token, the party who is an expert in a particular area is justified in asserting their position, and thus being Competitive. If in comparison to other issues, the particular issue is not important, then Avoiding is called for. Compromise is appropriate if that’s the best one can get, and further, if it preserves “group cohesiveness.” And while it often takes the most time and energy to achieve, Collaborating is best because it results in a “win-win” for all parties.
Ideally, one should have the ability to enact for all five conflict modes: Competing, Accommodating, Avoiding, Compromising, and Collaborating. Depending on the particular situation, one is then able to respond appropriately.
In the end, the prime issue is what’s more important, winning or preserving group harmony? Compromising is as much about living together amicably than it is about resolving key issues. Indeed, one is not possible without the other.
Just when we need it more than ever, Compromise is more elusive than ever.