Verse 35-2: Conflict styles, part 1

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Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • Understanding different conflict styles and how to use them
  • Considering the relationship, the issue, and our own integrity

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 35-2 (download)

02-21-09 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta - Verse 35 pt.2 - BBCorner

“May all beings be competent when meeting those who challenge them.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when seeing a dispute.

I’m talking about the different conflict styles this time:

  • avoiding
  • accommodating
  • controlling
  • compromising
  • cooperating

It’s all As or Cs. It’s good to use them in different situations. The usual way this is presented— but I might offer a twist on it—is you weigh how much the relationship is worth to you versus how much the issue is worth to you. What they don’t include in that is how much your own integrity is worth to you. That makes it three dimensional. It’s harder to put on a sheet of paper.


Take the relationship and the issues. If the relationship is not an important one to you—let’s say it’s with a stranger and it’s just a temporary relationship, and the person himself is not going to be damaged by it or anything like that—and the issue also isn’t important to you, you avoid the conflict. Because the relationship is a small one. I am just talking worldly ways now. I mean, of course in your heart you have love and compassion for the person, but in terms of your worldly relationships you may not see them again or whatever, so that’s small. The issue itself is one that you don’t have a lot of interest in for whatever reason. Other people may have interest and think it is an important issue. You may not. In that case, since you have not much interest in either the relationship or the issue, then you just avoid the conflict in some way or another. You find your way out of it. It’s not necessary to make a big deal out of it.


The second thing is accommodation, and that’s when the relationship is very important to you but the issue is not very important to you. When the relationship is very important because you’re going to keep on seeing this person again and again, and you want to be friends with her, and it’s somebody you respect, or even someone you don’t respect but you’re going to have to deal with her and the relationship is important to maintain, but the issue is not such a big thing, then you kind of do it their way and you accommodate to what they wish.

Here is one place where we go wrong if we’re a people-pleaser, because the relationship is important to us. The issue might actually be something important to us too, but if we don’t see that then we just go to the habitual behavior of accommodate, and then the issue never gets resolved and we hold resentment and animosity. At the same time we’re trying to please the other person. But it’s hard to please someone when you have resentment and animosity for them, isn’t it? That’s where people-pleasers get really tied up in knots because the pleasing isn’t genuine because the issue is really important but they’re not acknowledging the importance of the issue. They’re going right to accommodating because accommodating seems safe. If you do what the other person wants, then they’ll leave you alone. Then you get the reward of holding resentment. I think rather than being a people-pleaser, which is this kind of confused insincere state, either you have to decide the issue really is not important and therefore “I’ll do it the other persons way, I know I’m going to be happy with it,” or the issue really is important and therefore another negotiation style is called for. Because the relationship is important but the issue is also important. “I can’t just give up on what I think is important.”

I think that is enough for today. Think about that one. Think about those two: the avoidance and the accommodating. Make some examples of when you might do one, or when you might do the other, and then think of times in the past when you have done one but actually it wasn’t the right conflict style to do. When you should have either avoided it or accommodated, but you held on to some other way of doing it. That kind of reflection will be easier when we go through all five but you can start it now.

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