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Title: Conflict is for the Birds : Understanding Your Conflict Management Style

Author: Gayle Wiebe Oudeh & Nabil Oudeh

ISBN: 0-9731646-2-X


Conflict is for the Birds uses bird metaphors to explain the five conflict management styles (competitive, collaborative, compromising, accommodation, avoiding), how they are used, and how they relate to each other.

Writing Style:

The authors rely heavily on metaphor and, while examples cover both home and work, the assumed audience is in the workplace. Metaphors are really useful, as long as the reader understands them. Metaphors can simplify abstract or complex concepts, and allow touchy or complex concepts to be approached with less emotional baggage. The problem with metaphors is when they are understood differently than intended and when there are unacknowledged preferences, biases, experiences, likes/dislikes, prejudices, etc attached to them. Your milage may vary with regards to any particular metaphor. This book uses anthropomorphized (cartoon) bird behaviour.  Birders may cringe.

There are quizzes in this book and the results are used through out the text so they are worth doing when they are presented. I would suggest NOT writing your answers in pen on the book itself like the previous owner of my second-hand copy did. I suggest using a separate piece of paper or a pencil when doing the quizzes.

My Opinion:

The theory of five conflict management styles presented in the book is a standard theory that is one of the first things that gets brought up in conflict management classes.[1] The metaphor uses birds as stand-ins for conflict styles and places them on an axis of a “Focus on Self” vs “Focus on Others”[2] grid. Woodpeckers are competitive, Owls are collaborative, Parakeets are accommodating, Hummingbirds are compromising, and Ostriches are avoiding. The bird descriptive sections give a conflict scenario for each bird, main conflict characteristics, common tactics used, some motivations behind the characteristics and tactics, how conflict is experienced as that type, and some advice on when that style is useful, not useful, and how to deal with that style. There is also a section on what happens (and what to do about it) when styles collide.

One thing I particularly liked about this book is that it presents styles as preferences that are moved through. They call this a “flight pattern”. This isn’t a set personality type (i.e. “Bob is a woodpecker and will never behave like anything other than a woodpecker”) but rather as a preference for certain types of default patterns (i.e. “Bob tends to default to Woodpecker at the start then then moves through Hummingbird, Owl, Ostrich, then Parakeet. Bob knows this, as do the people he works with, so the keep it in mind that Bob’s first answer will always be hard even if he may later bend and this is particularly hard on his employees that also start in woodpecker”). It presents people as having defaults, but being able to move from them and giving advice on that.

The five conflict styles is pretty standard in conflict management and communications. It shows up everywhere. What this book is bringing to the table is presentation and focus.  If bird metaphors don’t work for you… there is definitely another book or website or explanation out there that uses something different and focuses on it in a different way. The theory can be either useful (if taken as descriptive and flexible) or restrictive (if taken as set personality types that can’t be changed).

Evil Overlord Assessment:

Pigeonholing people is a wonderful tool for evil. If you make it about WHO-THEY-ARE (unchanging) or WHO-YOU-ARE rather than behaviour then you can justify anything. (“I HAVE to get my way BECAUSE I’m a woodpecker.” Or “There is NO USE getting their opinion BECAUSE they are an ostrich.”) It doesn’t matter if they are or aren’t (or you are or aren’t) because the answer is pre-ordained to be whatever you’ve decided. This tactic can turn any categorization system into a rigid hierarchy from which there is no escape. As an added bonus, assign GOOD or BAD judgements to categories. (“Hummingbirds are all Flighty Assholes who can’t make a decision.” Or “I’m an Owl so I manage conflict well.”) This combination will allow you to dismiss or highlight whatever you want without changing yourself.


[1] Thomas - Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

[2] Other ways the chart can be presented include: “Assertiveness” vs “Cooperativeness”; or “Concern for Own Agenda” vs “Concern for Others Agenda”; or “Desire to Satisfy Own Concerns” vs “Desire to Satisfy Others’ Concerns”; etc. The way it is presented may affect how people perceive the value of each access. We tend to apply “good” to things we value positively and “bad” to things we value negatively. These options are meant to be descriptive and value neutral in this case.


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