Conflict Resolution, Part 3

Competing and Dominant Fighting Styles

We’ve been talking about fighting. So far we’ve covered avoiding conflict, and accommodating another person’s needs over your own. Our primary focus has been on improving how you fight for your relationship.

For those following along from week one, you know that avoiding conflict will inevitably lead to more conflict and that accommodating, or giving in, to the needs of others can be draining.

Maybe you don’t tend to use either of these. You’re in luck! Today is the day for you.

Before we jump in, let’s take a refresher in conflict styles:

What is a fighting style?

A fighting style, conflict style, whatever you prefer to call it, is the way you choose to engage in a disagreement. As we’ve said before, it’s a learned behavior determined by your experiences and your environment.

Most people tend to use one primary style, but everyone is capable of using any and all styles in their lifetime.

How are these categorized?

The TKI model (covered in depth in Part 1) is the best tool for determining your conflict style and improving it. The model measures a person’s concern for themselves (assertiveness) against their concern for other people (cooperativeness). The result identifies which of the five distinct resolution styles you are more likely to use.

Today’s style of choice? Competing or dominant conflict styles.


Where It Lands on the Scale

Of the three we have covered thus far, the competing style is the highest in assertiveness. Imagine a rocket soaring through the ceiling of assertiveness and you will find dominant style strapped to the front of it. That rocket is also traveling straight up.

The competing style is at the very bottom of the scale in terms of cooperativeness. Dominant fighters are the exact opposite of accommodating fighters.

The terms “dominant” and “competing” are fairly interchangeable when discussing conflict resolution styles.

Characteristics of Dominant Fighters

Typically people who use this style regularly view themselves as defeating an enemy. Their goal is to win, even if they are wrong. Dominant fighters view their needs as the only ones that need to be met or that their opinion is the only one that matters.

When in a disagreement domineering fighters can use name calling and other demeaning tactics.

Because of the high value, they place on themselves, these types of fighters disregard opposing viewpoints with ease. Feelings are secondary when engaged in an argument.

Competing fighters, tend to make decisions quickly, though, which means they can act calmly in emergencies. They can also make tough decisions easily, sometimes hastily.

Effects of Competing Tendencies

Dominant fighters usually get what they want and are achievers, at all costs. Their aggressive tactics can frequently lead to burned bridges.

While the competing style leads to “wins” the tactics aren’t always received well, i.e. people don’t enjoy being steamrolled.

Additionally, people who use this style tend to ignore the needs of the family, in favor of their own. What does that mean? At some point resentment will settle in. If there are more than one competitors in the argument, one may retaliate if they don’t get their way.

In general, this is not a recommended fighting style in relationships because of the volatile emotions it can create.

Conflict ResolutionTo Use or Not to Use

Let’s take a look at when it might be appropriate to use, and when it definitely is not. We will use one of the same scenarios from our week on avoidance:

Scenario 1

Your wife has a system for loading the dishwasher, that she claims results in cleaner dishes. You don’t care how the dishes go in there, because with the push of a button they all get cleaned. You offer to do the dishes after she’s had a long day, but she isn’t thrilled with that idea since you probably won’t load the dishes her way.

After assuring her that they will all get clean, she begins to get frustrated with you. You begin to load the dishwasher anyway. Your wife begins shouting that you are doing it all wrong and that you must be stupid for not knowing how to do this right. She continues to tell you this until you step back and let her rearrange it her way. Once you do this, she is happy.

This is NOT a good way to handle this situation. As you can imagine, the wife “won” the argument, but she sacrificed a peaceful night. Instead of taking the gesture for what it was, a nice thing, she focused in on getting her way and hurting feelings along the way.

Scenario 2

You and your spouse are called by your child’s school. There has been an accident and your child needs medical attention. They tell you they can take your child to the emergency room or that you can come to the school to pick your child up. Your spouse becomes hysterical that something serious is wrong, without actually knowing, and demands to see your child immediately.

You tell the school to take your child to the nearest hospital and you will meet them there. When you arrive your spouse is inconsolable so you make all of the care decisions without conferring with them. You are certain of your decisions and everything turns out fine.

This is one of those few times that absolute assertiveness is good. Decisions needed to be made and you had a clear mind to make them. You took control of the situation.Strategies to improve your fighting technique

Strategies to Improve your Fighting Technique

Dominant fighters tend to lack compassion for other people. For that reason, it’s important to take a step back from the situation and determine if it’s worth “winning” the fight, or saving the relationship.

  1. Evaluate the issue at hand. Is it worth burning a bridge? Is it of the utmost importance to you? Is it important to the other person? Do you know you are 100% right?
  2. Monitor your tactics. It is possible to use the competing style without demeaning or belittling the opposing party. Avoid using accusatory language or flinging insults. This way you can maintain the relationship but also achieve your goal.
  3. “Losing” is not a death sentence. Just because you didn’t get your way, doesn’t mean the world is going to end. It’s okay not to get your way.Extra Resources

Extra Resources

If you are still struggling with gaining compassion for your spouse try finding a workbook on compassion. This one is only $2 at Barnes and Noble.

As always, if you are having serious issues that you feel you can’t resolve on your own, bring in a third party. Licensed therapists and counselors can be objective about matters and often open your eyes to something you may not have seen.


If you’re a more dominant fighter, this week was probably rough on you. Knowing how your chosen style affects your relationships can help you increase your cooperativeness. Remember, winning isn’t everything so it’s good to evaluate each issue to figure out how important the both the relationship and being right is.

We’ve covered all of the extremes of the TKI model. All of which have their place.

Coming up next week we discuss the middle ground: Compromising.

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