Men and Women in Conflict: The Roles She Plays

We know conflict is inevitable.

Posted Feb 27, 2012

We know conflict is inevitable. It is a natural, normal part of life. Where there are relationships, there will be conflict. A critical component of successful male-female relationships is the ability of the couple or coworkers to handle conflict,

whether it is in the boardroom or the bedroom. In fact, handling conflict or not handling conflict is often considered one of the explanations for the fifty-fifty survival rate of marriages. The workplace is equally riddled with poorly managed conflicts affecting the bottom line.

This first article addresses the possible roles women may play in a conflict. They are common scenarios all of us see played out. The next article will address the roles men play in conflict.

The Roles She Plays in Conflict

Taking care of others: "I like playing 'office mom' when people seek me out with their troubles."

Taking a backseat: "I don't need to express my opinion with such a strong group."

Acting dumb: "I can't express my expertise on this issue."

Being the power behind the throne: "It's okay if I don't get the acknowledgment for the work I do behind the scenes for my manager."

Suffering silently: "That was inappropriate, but I will remain quiet about it."

Playing nice: "If I act nice to my coworkers, no one will confront me."

Waiting to be saved: "My supervisor will intervene on my behalf."

Being seen, not heard: "I don't speak up in meetings."

Sacrificing yourself for others: "It's okay if I did not get the credit I deserve. She needs it more."

Being a people pleaser: "My need to have people like me is stronger than voicing my true opinion."

Not rocking the boat: "I don't want to be a troublemaker."

Keeping and making the peace: "My need to have everyone get along is more important than addressing this issue."

1. What implication does this have for handling everyday conflict at work (financial costs, lack of promotion and career progress, acting out resentment in indirect ways such as passive-aggressive behavior, and inferior decision making)?

2. What are some methods of communication that could be employed to counteract these potential dysfunctional styles?

  • Draw women into controversy: "Ginny, every proposal has its strengths and weaknesses. Can you share a weakness?"
  • Let her know it is okay to "agree to disagree": "Let's not fall into groupthink."
  • Create a culture where it is okay to express a different opinion and still remain collegial, especially for women. A disagreement does not have to result in making enemies.
  • Set the rules of engagement to include the full participation of everyone. Don't allow one person to dominate and take all the airtime.
  • What new thoughts and insights has the group gained about how women handle conflict?

Taken from: The Gender Communication Handbook: Conquering Conversational Collisions Between Men and Women (Pfeiffer 2012). Audrey Nelson PhD and Claire Damken Brown PhD