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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Giombetti Associates: Managing Conflict

by Shel Horowitz

Conflict is inevitable in any business, say Rick Giombetti and Paul Alves of Giombetti Associates-presenters at the Family Business Center's May 20th meeting in Holyoke.

And conflict will take many forms, depending on the personality traits of the various players. For example, a typical entrepreneur may be highly competitive, aggressive, with a strong need to win-in fact, executives score around 70% for competitiveness, on the average.

Giombetti and Alves use a test to determine levels of five personality traits: Competition, Collaboration, Compromise, Avoidance, and Accommodation. For each of these characteristics, the most effective range is somewhere in the middle: you don't succeed by dominating people completely, but you also don't succeed if you're a pushover who never stands up for your rights.

Perhaps the most important piece of their analysis: to a degree, we can adjust our behavior! If we score too high or too low on any of these scales, we can start developing mechanisms to bring us back to a more effective position. In Giombetti's words: "you can manage the extremes of behavior by conscious effort," though the basic tendencies will probably remain. In fact, no matter what kind of person you are, you'll accomplish your goals more easily if you're "willing to listen and seek to understand" the other person.

Still, a complete personality transformation would be rare. If you want an aggressive go-getter, don't hire an accommodating avoider-even if that person has done well in team sports. But also don't hire someone in the 90th percentile for competitiveness and near zero for collaboration and compromise-or the rest of your employees will mutiny.

To make the concept concrete, they used the example of a person on a special celebration-who is seated at the worst table in the fancy restaurant where they had reservations. An avoider will stew quietly, trying to avoid the conflict. But instead of diminishing, it goes inside the emotions and ruins the evening. A highly confrontive person will alienate the restaurant staff, and probably not accomplish the goal. But compromisers and collaborators will look for a solution that works for everyone-for example, "How long would we need to wait for a better table?" (compromise) or "Let's see what we can do about this problem" (collaboration). Both of these are for more likely to achieve the desired result.

Still, even these traits are best in moderation. If someone scores too high on those scales, they'll need to hold endless meetings and consultations before taking even the tiniest action step. Or they' back down so far before negotiations have really started that there's no room to achieve their goal.

As for the super-aggressive, said Alves, "If you always have to win, there will be no one around to help you celebrate."

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