Understanding our Responses to conflict: Passive, Aggressive and Assertive

You have read that I believe that all conflict in our world can be traced back to three main roots:  Limited Resources, Unmet Basic Needs and Different Values.  See my very first blog for a review here.

If you are at all interested in better communication and effective listening strategies, then you have likely heard about the three basic responses to conflict: Passive, Aggressive or Assertive.

The differences in our responses are defined by how we effect the resources, basic needs and values for ourselves and for the people with whom we are in conflict.  We can guide our responses by our intentions and what we hope the end result of the conflict will be.

A Passive response generally looks like avoiding or denying a conflict in your life.  Many people believe that in order to avoid being Aggressive, or violent with their body or words, that they must be Passive.  How this results is that yours, the other persons or both of your resources, basic needs and values are not being met or are being compromised.  Sometimes this feels like a survival technique, which it may very well be, depending on your situation.  It is important to remember that survival doesn't mean that all of your needs are met, it simply means you are alive and feel safe(r) in that moment.  This can lead to un-solved issues, recurring conflicts and dissatisfaction in the long-run of your relationships.

An Aggressive response means that you are doing whatever you can to make sure that your own needs are met, and usually means that the other person(s) is not getting their needs met because of your actions.  If your goal is simply to protect your resources, meet your own needs and defend your own values then you may trend towards an aggressive response to conflict. It looks like the "Fight" response, in a "fight or flight" scenario, and generally holds some of the longest-lasting consequences in your relationships.

An Assertive response to conflict is characterized by putting every effort to preserve resources, meet needs and keep intact the values for all parties involved.  When you see the reality of this, it can be much easier to work towards a resolution that will satisfy all people involved in a conflict.  It can take time, effort and seeking to understand to be sure that all the elements for each individual are being preserved.  This is the kind of response to conflict that can be sustainable, create more understanding and prevent escalating long-term discomforts in our relationships.  

It's important to know that every conflict is unique and that no one response is always an available option.  It is also important to understand that your intentions can guide your responses if you simply check in with yourself.  Is my hope to "win" no matter what?  Is my hope to just get through this so I don't have to deal in this moment?  Do I want to find lasting resolution and make sure everyone involved is taken care of?  Take a moment the next time you encounter some kind of conflict (probably sometime today!) and check your intentions. See if you can recognize your own roots of this conflict and the roots for the people you are in conflict with as well.  The more often that we can protect the resources, meet the needs and respect the values of all involved, the more peaceful and understanding a world we will live in. Thanks for doing your part!

Robin Funsten3 Comments