Natural Responses to Conflicting and Challenging Situations

Everyone has a natural or innate response to conflict.

While we may choose to not engage in a conflict, we feel our emotional response to it nevertheless. The more aware we are of our natural tendencies, the more effectively we can manage them.

This post references the DISC behavioral identification assessment. D stands for dominance; I for influence; S for steadiness; and C for compliance. Research shows that most of us have more than one predominant behavioral style, but under stress we tend to have an automatic or primal response style. When faced with a stressor or confrontation (perceived or real), our innate fears usually are triggered, which activates our natural conflict response. Feel free to contact us to complete the DISC assessment.

Let’s look at the styles’ natural responses. Regardless of whether you know your DISC style, by identifying your most common response, and reading the expanded descriptions, you may accurately define your primary style.

When presented with a conflict or challenge, what is your natural response or gut instinct?

  • Confront it head on

  • Convince yourself it isn’t that bad

  • Avoid it as long as possible

  • Disengage or see if it gets worse

Let’s look at these responses in more detail.

Confronting it head on (Dominance)

If you prefer confronting challenges or conflicts “head on,” your natural style may be dominance. People high in dominance want to “get it over with,” finding it difficult to postpone addressing or resolving conflict. Their core emotion is anger (they refer to it as passion or intensity), which can add “heat” to a conflict. They tend to make fast and sometimes overly negative assumptions about a conflict. Their core fear is “being taken advantage of.” When this fear is triggered, they tend to respond with anger.

Convincing yourself it’s not that bad (Influence)

People high in influence often recognize an issue or conflict, but choose to make overly positive assumptions about it. Take the often-used term “elephant in the room” for example. High-influence people may acknowledge there is an elephant in the room. They then proceed to brainstorm ways to ride it or rearrange the furniture to make space for it (without conceding that elephants have no place in the room in the first place). Their core emotion is optimism. Combined with their core fear of “not being liked” or “social rejection,” they tend to assume that a positive attitude or generosity will make any problem go away. 

Avoiding it as long as possible (Steadiness)

If you have a tendency to avoid conflicts as long as possible, you fit this description. People high in steadiness go to great lengths to avoid instability. Conflict, is by nature disruptive, which means most people high in steadiness avoid it as long as possible. Their core emotion is “non-emotion” (not to be confused with being un-emotional). They tend to keep their emotions well hidden, and others may find it challenging to know their true feelings. Their core fear is “lack of stability” or “unplanned change.” Pushing for a conversation or resolution to a challenging conversation can be met with passive-aggressive behavior or silence.

Disengaging or seeing if it gets worse (Compliance)

If you tend to sit back and observe to see if the situation gets worse before addressing it, you may be high-compliance. Addressing a conflict or challenging situation with someone high-compliance requires good timing and deliberate execution. If you are heated or emotional about the conflict, you’re better off postponing the conversation. People high in compliance prefer facts or data about a situation vs. feelings and emotions. Naturally skeptical, they may become defensive, if you point out mistakes or missed expectations. Their core emotion is “fear of making a mistake” and their core fear is “not meeting their own high standards.” If you don’t time conversations correctly, they may walk away, refusing to engage.

  • Consider a person you want to have a challenging conversation with or with whom you need to address a conflict.
  • Determine what primary style they might be and use the graph to gain tips and strategies for doing so “in style.”