How to deal with different conflict styles in a cofounder partnership

Conflict styles refer to the distinct ways individuals or groups engage in disagreements. They encompass a spectrum of approaches, each with its own set of behaviors and attitudes. These styles determine how people express their needs, resolve disputes, and navigate challenging situations. Whether through avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise, or collaboration, conflict styles profoundly influence the outcome and dynamics of conflicts.

Understanding and adapting these styles can facilitate more effective communication and lead to better resolutions, depending on the context and the relationships involved. Each style has its merits and drawbacks, making it essential to select the most suitable approach for each unique conflict scenario.

Conflict style management can be tricky to navigate in any relationship. In cofounder partnerships, stakes are high, interests are vested and there is a lot on the line – conflict style management becomes of utmost importance.

In this article, The Cofounder’s Hub will walk you through how to handle conflicts with your cofounder based on their conflict style through being intentional about how you approach conversations and discussions.

As a reminder, here are the 5 types of conflict styles based on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and their brief descriptions:

Avoidance: Individuals ignore or evade conflicts, often leading to unresolved issues.

Accommodation: One party yields to the other’s desires, prioritizing harmony over personal goals.

Competition: Aggressive and assertive behavior to win conflicts, often at the expense of others’ needs.

Compromise: A middle-ground solution where both parties make concessions for mutual benefit.

Collaboration: Cooperative problem-solving, focusing on win-win outcomes by considering everyone’s perspectives and needs.

My Cofounder has an Avoidant Conflict Style

If your cofounder is conflict avoidant, it may prove challenging to engage in discussions, or even get their honest opinions. They might choose to hide their thoughts or ignore hurt feelings in order to keep the peace. While that might work at keeping the relationship frictionless in the short term, the danger is that resentment will build up. Plus, you have a cofounder for a reason; if they’re unable to speak their mind, why bother having a business partner?
Using a thoughtful approach, you can encourage open communication and work towards resolution.

Choose the Right Time and Place
Find a quiet and private setting where both of you feel comfortable. Avoid putting them on the spot or confronting them in front of others.

Be Patient and Non-Confrontational
Avoid aggressive or accusatory language. Instead, express your desire for understanding and resolution. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without blaming them.

Listen Actively
Give them space to share their thoughts and feelings. Avoid interrupting or pushing too hard. Show empathy and validate their perspective, even if you disagree.

Ask Open-Ended Questions
Encourage them to express themselves by asking open-ended questions that invite discussion rather than yes/no answers.

Respect Their Boundaries
Recognize that avoidant individuals may need time to process their emotions and thoughts. Be respectful of their need for space, but gently emphasize the importance of addressing the issue.

Suggest Alternative Communication Methods
Some avoidant individuals may find it easier to express themselves in writing or through indirect means like email or text.

Seek Compromise
Focus on finding common ground and solutions that accommodate both your needs and theirs. Avoid pushing for immediate resolution if they need more time.

Offer Support
Let them know that you are willing to work together to find a solution and that you value the relationship.

Consider Mediation
In more complex situations, a neutral third party, like a mediator or therapist, can help facilitate the conversation and guide the resolution process.

Remember that it may take time for an avoidant person to open up and engage in conflict, so patience and understanding are key. The goal is to create a safe and supportive environment where both parties can express themselves and work towards a mutually acceptable solution.

My Cofounder has an Accommodating Conflict Style

If your cofounder has an accommodating conflict style, it might pose problems similar to a cofounder with an avoidant conflict style: you might bulldoze over their opinions accidentally as they are willing and eager to concede. The downside of such an action is that resentment might build, and you will be working off of one person’s opinion instead of two. The best part about having a cofounder is being able to work together on a project, but for this to happen, both parties must have an active voice.

Engaging in conflict with someone who tends to be accommodating can be a delicate process. Here are some tips for effectively addressing conflicts with such individuals:

Express Your Needs Clearly
Clearly communicate your concerns and what you need from the situation. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and requirements without making them feel pressured.

Acknowledge Their Perspective
Recognize and appreciate their willingness to accommodate. Let them know that you value their cooperation but want to ensure a mutually satisfactory solution.

Encourage Open Communication
Create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings. Ask for their input and opinions on the issue, so they don’t feel overlooked.

Be Empathetic
Understand that accommodating individuals may have their own needs and concerns. Show empathy and validate their perspective as well.

Seek Win-Win Solutions
Emphasize finding solutions that benefit both parties, rather than one-sided compromises. This approach helps them feel like their efforts are recognized and valued.

Avoid Taking Advantage
Be careful not to exploit their accommodating nature. Encourage them to voice their limits and ensure that your requests are reasonable.

Express Gratitude
After resolving the conflict, express gratitude for their willingness to cooperate and their role in finding a solution.

Encourage Self-Advocacy
Over time, gently encourage them to express their own needs and boundaries more assertively. This helps maintain a balanced and healthy dynamic.

Use Mediation if Necessary
In complex conflicts, consider involving a neutral third party, such as a mediator or counselor, to ensure fairness and facilitate communication.

The key is to maintain respect, balance, and open communication while addressing the conflict. Aim for a resolution that considers both parties’ needs and allows the accommodating person to contribute positively to the outcome.

My Cofounder has a Competing Conflict Style

A competing conflict style can be one of the most dangerous for cooperative tasks, such as building a business together. Its individualistic nature and preoccupation with “coming out on top” leaves little room for collaboration or compromise. If your cofounder becomes aggressive during conflict, it might even shift your own conflict style – you might find yourself seeking to avoid conflict wherever possible. It is important to create clear boundaries from the start, and communicate effectively and firmly.
Engaging in conflict will require careful navigation to ensure a constructive resolution. Here’s how to approach such situations effectively:

Stay Calm and Composed
Maintain your composure and avoid reacting emotionally. Competing individuals may use strong language or aggressive tactics, but responding calmly can help de-escalate the situation.

Listen Actively
Allow them to express their viewpoint fully. Show that you value their perspective by actively listening and acknowledging their concerns.

Find Common Ground
Look for areas of agreement or shared interests, even in competitive situations. This can provide a foundation for cooperation.

Use “I” Statements
Express your own feelings, needs, and concerns using “I” statements to avoid appearing confrontational or accusatory.

Avoid Escalation
Refrain from responding with aggression or defensiveness. Instead, focus on the issue at hand and avoid personal attacks.

Ask Questions
Seek to understand their motivations and reasoning. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to explain their position further.

Set Boundaries
If they become too aggressive or disrespectful, calmly and firmly assert your boundaries. Let them know what behavior is unacceptable.

Propose Collaborative Solutions
Suggest finding win-win solutions that benefit both parties. Competing individuals may respond positively to solutions that allow them to achieve their goals while also addressing your concerns.

Be Prepared for Compromise
Recognize that some concessions may be necessary to reach a resolution. Be willing to give and take to find a middle ground.

Consider Time and Place
If possible, choose an appropriate time and setting for the discussion, which can impact the tone and outcome of the conflict.

Seek Mediation if Needed
If the conflict remains unmanageable, consider involving a neutral third party, such as a mediator or arbitrator, to facilitate a fair and balanced resolution.

Engaging with someone who has a competing conflict style requires assertiveness, resilience, and a focus on problem-solving. Strive to address the issue while maintaining respect and professionalism throughout the process.

My Cofounder has a Collaborating Conflict Style

The best way to manage conflict with a cofounder that has a collaborating conflict style is to speak your mind. Collaborators require active participation of the group in order to reach a conflict resolution, so being passive or avoidant about your point of view will not do. If your cofounder has a collaborative conflict style, consider yourself lucky! In the business of cofounder partnership, having someone who wants to actively engage with your point of view in order to reach a collective goal is incredibly valuable and makes teamwork the dreamwork.
Here are some tips on how to engage in a fruitful discussion with your collaborating cofounder:

Initiate Open Communication
Encourage a safe and open environment where both parties can express their thoughts, concerns, and needs without fear of judgment.

Share Your Perspective
Express your viewpoint, feelings, and needs clearly and honestly. Collaborators appreciate transparency.

Listen Actively
Pay close attention to their perspective and actively listen to their thoughts and feelings. Show empathy and respect for their point of view.

Ask for Their Input
Involve them in problem-solving by asking for their ideas and solutions. Collaborators thrive on active participation.

Explore Multiple Solutions
Collaborators are open to brainstorming and considering various options. Explore multiple solutions together, weighing the pros and cons of each.

Build on Each Other’s Ideas
Encourage the generation of new ideas by building on each other’s suggestions. This promotes creativity and innovation in finding solutions.

Emphasize Common Goals
Highlight shared goals and interests to reinforce the idea that you’re working together towards a mutual benefit.

Be Patient and Flexible
Collaboration can take time, so be patient and flexible during the process. Be open to adapting your own ideas and solutions.

Maintain Respect
Even in a collaborative setting, disagreements may arise. Ensure that the discussion remains respectful and focused on the issue at hand.

Celebrate Success
When you reach a mutually beneficial resolution, acknowledge and celebrate your joint achievement. This reinforces the collaborative approach.

Set Clear Agreements
Document the agreed-upon solutions and responsibilities to ensure both parties are on the same page moving forward.

Use Mediation as a Last Resort
If a resolution proves elusive, consider involving a neutral third party, such as a mediator, to facilitate the process and help find common ground.

Engaging in conflict with a collaborator can lead to innovative solutions and strengthen relationships. By fostering open communication and a willingness to work together, you can achieve mutually satisfying outcomes.

My Cofounder has a Compromising Conflict Style

A compromising conflict style prioritizes finding the middle ground. Much like in a collaborative situation, you’re going to have to speak your mind and offer your opinions in order to resolve the conflict effectively. The compromising individual is keen to learn your opinions so that they can meet you halfway. Depending on your conflict style, that may become a challenge, so focus on these useful tips on how to manage conflict with a compromising cofounder:

Open a Dialogue
Initiate a respectful and open conversation about the issue at hand. Encourage them to share their thoughts and concerns.

Express Your Needs
Clearly communicate your own needs, desires, and boundaries. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding confrontational.

Listen Actively
Pay attention to their perspective and actively listen to their proposed compromises. Acknowledge their efforts to find a solution.

Identify Shared Interests
Look for common goals or interests that can form the basis for compromise. Emphasize the areas where your interests align.

Brainstorm Solutions
Collaborate on generating alternative solutions. Compromisers often appreciate considering various options before settling on one.

Be Willing to Give and Take
Show a willingness to make concessions and ask them to do the same. Compromises often involve both parties making sacrifices.

Avoid Extreme Positions
Encourage them to avoid rigid positions and all-or-nothing thinking. Promote flexibility in finding solutions.

Consider Trade-Offs
Discuss trade-offs and prioritize the most important aspects of the issue. Determine which concessions are acceptable.

Seek Fairness
Ensure that the proposed compromises are fair and balanced. Both parties should feel that the solution addresses their core concerns.

Document Agreements
If necessary, document the agreed-upon compromises to prevent misunderstandings and maintain accountability.

Maintain Respect
Keep the discussion respectful and avoid blame or criticism. Focus on the issue rather than personal attacks.

Use Mediation as a Last Resort
If finding a compromise becomes challenging, consider involving a neutral third party, such as a mediator, to help facilitate the resolution process.

Engaging with someone who has a compromising conflict style involves a willingness to collaborate, make concessions, and find solutions that balance the interests of both parties. By emphasizing fairness and flexibility, you can work together to reach mutually acceptable outcomes.

No matter what…

Remember to be respectful, keep your calm, and have your company’s best interests at heart. When in a conflict, it shouldn’t feel like it’s you against your cofounder – you’re a team, and you must always act like one. If this seems like an impossible task, consider bringing on a mediator or adviser to help bridge the gap and help you be the best cofounders that you can be!

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