Intentions intervene between people’s perception and emotions and their overt behavior. These intentions are decisions to act in a given way.
Why are intentions separated out as a distinct stage? You have to infer the other’s in order to know how to respond to that other’s behavior. A lot of conflicts are escalated merely by one party attributing the wrong intentions to the other party. In addition, there is typically a great deal of slippage between intentions and behavior, so behavior does not always accurately reflect a person’s intentions.
Competing: When one person seeks to satisfy his or her own interests, regardless of the impact on the other parties to the conflict, he or she is competing. Examples include intending to achieve your goal at the sacrifice of the other’s goal, attempting to convince another that your conclusion is correct and that his or hers is mistaken, and trying to make someone else accept blame for a problem.
Collaborating: When the parties conflict, each desire to fully satisfy the concerns of all parties, we have cooperation and the search for a mutually beneficial outcome. In collaborating the intention of the parties is to solve the problem by clarifying differences rather than by accommodating various points of view. Examples include attempting to find a win-win solution that allows both parties’ goals to be completely achieved and seeking a conclusion that incorporates the valid insights of both parties.
Avoiding: A person may recognize that a conflict exists and want to withdraw from it or suppress it. Examples of avoiding include trying to just ignore a conflict and avoiding people with whom you disagree.
Accommodating: When one party seeks to appease an opponent, that party may be willing to place the opponent’s interests above his or her own. In other words, in order for the relationship to be maintained, one party is willing to be self sacrificing. We refer to this intention as accommodating. Examples are a willingness to sacrifice your goal so that the other party’s goal can be attained, supporting someone else’s opinion despite your reservation about it, and forgiving someone for an infraction and allowing subsequent ones.
Compromising: When each party to the conflict seeks to give up something, sharing occurs, resulting in a compromised outcome. In compromising, there is no clear winner or loser. Rather, there is a willingness to ration the object of the conflict and accept a solution that provides incomplete satisfaction of both parties’ concerns. The distinguishing characteristic of compromising therefore is that each party intends to give up something. Examples might be willingness to accept a raise of $2 an hour rather than $3, to acknowledge partial agreement with a specific viewpoint and to take partial blame for an infraction.
Intentions provide general guidelines for parties in a conflict situation. They define each party’s purpose. Yet, people’s intentions are not fixed. During the course of a conflict, they might change because of change in concepts or because of an emotional reaction to the behavior of the other party.
However research indicates that people have an underlying disposition to handle conflicts in certain ways. Specifically individuals have preferences among the five conflict handling intentions just described; these preferences tend to be relied on quite consistently, and a person’s intentions can be predicted rather well from a combination of intellectual and personality characteristics. So, it may be more appropriate to view the five conflict handling intentions as relatively fixed rather than as a set of options from which individuals choose to fit in appropriate situation. That is, when confronting a conflict situation, some people want to win it all at any cost, some want to find an optimal solution, some want to run away, others want to be obliging and still others want to split the differences.