Preparing for Pirates: Communicating Through Conflict

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Each September, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” celebrates the light-hearted side of piracy—the rolling letter “rrrr’s,” the merry drinks and the adventures of life at sea.  In real life, though, we occasionally run into the more traditional pirate–the one that is ready to board your boat and take your treasure away.

Contemplating pirates offers a great opportunity to review a communications framework that focuses on conflict: the Thomas Kilmann model.  Think about a possible upcoming conflict – who is the pirate on your particular horizon?  Now, think about the degree of assertiveness you are willing to engage in—how much do you need or want to advocate your own interests when dealing with this pirate?  Next, think about the degree of cooperativeness you are willing to engage in—how much are you willing to meet the pirate’s needs?

When creating a matrix with these two factors, it results in five different “conflict styles”:

  • Avoiding – Steer your ship the other way! In this case, you have no interest in advocating your own interests or in meeting the pirate’s needs. If the conflict isn’t worth, just walk away.
  • Accommodating – Sometimes, giving the pirate what he needs is more important than having your own needs met. Giving in on something minor may earn you points for the future.
  • Competing – There’s only one pot of gold, and you want it! In this case, there is no interest in a win-win situation—a relationship with the pirate is not what you need. Fight for what you need, even if it means not having a relationship later.
  • Compromising – In this case, you may give the pirate half your treasure as long as he gives you half of his. If you both have different treasures, this may be an efficient and timely trade!
  • Collaborating – Sometimes, the pirate can become a partner. In this case, you are willing to invest time and effort to find out how to meet both your needs and the pirate’s needs—perhaps by joining forces to bring a new kind of rum to market.

Systematically reviewing what is important to you in a conflict, and what style will benefit you the most in the near-term and long-term, will help you plan ahead for all the pirates you may encounter throughout the year!

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