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Gender and Conflict Style

Gender and Conflict Style

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that people associate certain conflict styles more strongly with women than with men (and vice versa) and that people often act "as expected to" by their culture in conflict

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Gender & Conflict Style

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We've been discussing cultural attitudes towards gender, how cultures feel certain behavior is more appropriate perhaps for men and other behaviors more appropriate for women. Well, I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial I would like to continue this discussion of gender, only I'd like to look at it in terms of conflict style.

Now, you may remember that we discussed something called the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Style Inventory. It's an inventory that you can take to find out what your most comfortable conflict style is. Everybody has something they tend towards. There are five of them. I have them listed here. And let's just do a brief review of them.

This first one here, competing. Competing is sometimes known as forcing. And this is a conflict style where a party would focus more on meeting their own needs, even if it meant at the other's expense. So meet your own needs at the other's expense. Then there's the avoiding style. And of course avoiding is exactly what it says it is. There's no attempt at all to address or resolve the conflict.

The accommodating style is a style here which is really almost the opposite of competing. In this style a party would work to meet the other's needs, perhaps at their own expense. Then there's compromising. And in the compromising style a party would agree to sacrifice some of their needs in exchange for getting others met. Then the last style here, the collaborating is a style which is also known as problem solving. And this is where parties would work together jointly to try to reach the mutual goals of both parties.

So five styles. We're all capable of all of these styles. But we typically tend towards one we feel a little more comfortable with. So how are these styles perceived in terms of gender? Well, in the United States this competing style is most strongly associated with the men or with males. And that's because of the traits, the behavior traits that are considered masculine, strong, decisive, assertive, tough, competitive, directed. So those masculine traits that our culture associates with men that are still held by a lot of people would lead people to associate competing with men as a more masculine style.

Now, these next three, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising are most strongly associated with female behavior. One of the traits that is associated with women is nurturing, supportive, taking care of others. So the accommodating style is really associated with that feminine trait, female trait, as is compromising and even avoiding. Now, the last style here, collaborating, is consider gender neutral, that both genders can work together to collaborate.

So since there are these strong associations with these conflict styles based on these behaviors, these traits that are considered either feminine or masculine, what happens in a conflict? Well, in a conflict you may find that a party will behave in a certain way, adapt a particular style, just because they don't want to be seen as gender inappropriate. They want to be seen as male or female, and so they will adapt a particular style even if it's not working in their interests to help them get their needs met.

So, for example, you may have a conflict where a woman begins to act in an accommodating way, because she doesn't want to be seen as behaving inappropriately. And this could be very unconscious. This could be very unconscious. So that kind of thing can happen in a conflict resolution process. Now, what happens if a party steps out of their perceived role, what's appropriate for them from a perspective of gender? There could be a little cognitive dissonance.

For example, let's say there's a workplace dispute. The offices are moving. There are limited resources. You have a couple of teams competing for resources. And so there's a conflict over who's going to get what resources during this period of time when they're in transition. And you have perhaps a woman and a man, and the woman, instead of being accommodating and meeting the needs of others, stands up and is more competitive, is very competitive, is going to get what she feels her team needs, even if it might be at the expense of another team and their project. That behavior could cause some cognitive dissonance. This isn't like Sue, how she's behaving this way. And it might even have some negative perceptions, possibly. But it could allow Sue to get what she needs.

So there is the possibility of that cognitive dissonance when someone begins behaving or adopting a conflict style which may be perceived as being at odds with their gender. So once again, gender, we associate certain traits, broadly speaking, with male or with female. And because we have those associations so strongly associated, and many times it's unconscious, it can come into play when we are adopting a conflict style in a conflict resolution process. So I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A conflict resolution style in which one party helps to meet another's needs at the expense of his or her own.


A conflict resolution style in which a party does not make any attempt to address or resolve the conflict.


A conflict resolution style in which parties work jointly to try to meet all of each others needs.


A conflict resolution style in which one party seeks to meet his or her own needs at the expense of another party's needs (sometimes also referred to as forcing).


A conflict resolution style in which parties agree to sacrifice some of their needs in exchange for having others met.

Gender Associated Conflict Style

A conflict style considered to be "right, proper, or correct" by a given culture of members of different genders to use/adopt.