How Your “Conflict Style” Affects Your Relationships

Part Three: The new “How to Tend and Befriend Conflict” series. If you think you know how to deal with conflict, think again.

Michele DeMarco, PhD


A kangaroo figurine is punching a doll figurine to show conflict.

Happy to announce Part Three of the “Tend and Befriend Conflict” column: A four-part series that will change the way you understand, navigate, and engage the conflict in your life. It works for all types of conflict: personal, professional, and in the broader community. Would love to hear what you think.

A fellow Medium writer once told me that if you want to get “claps,” write about relationships. As a marriage and family trained therapist, I can understand why. Human beings are relational to their core. And whether it’s the relationship we have with ourselves or those we have with others and the world, it’s natural, even constructive, as we learned in Part Two of this series, that conflict will bubble up.

What’s also natural is that we all have “conflict styles” — that is, ways of feeling, thinking, and behaving that we incline when faced with tension or conflict.

So, try this.

Harken back to a conflict or two that you have experienced. It can be from childhood or as an adult, and personal, professional, or community-oriented in nature. Get a good sense of who was involved, where you were, and what issues were at stake. Now, using an animal metaphor, complete the following sentence:

“I responded to that conflict like a…” [select appropriate animal].

Here is a montage of some my favorite responses from various conflict transformation classes I’ve taught.

Various animals looking scared, howling, ducking beneath water, running away, and curling up.

It’s crucial to know how specifically conflict triggers us; for instance, certain kinds of conflict and certain issues, groups of people, personality types, and environments, because these are the things that influence our actions and determine whether they are constructive or destructive.

Introducing the “Five Conflict Styles”



Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t.