Exploring Conflict Styles

Do you know your conflict style? Knowing this about yourself, and knowing the conflict style of your family members, can aid in better conflict resolution, increase empathy, and promote positive communication. Determining conflict styles of individuals and processing how the styles of family members, couples, siblings, friends, co-workers, and any other group can be fun by using toy animals. Use this activity in a group or individual setting. Parents can also use this to teach their kids about their own conflict styles.

Animal Conflict Styles:

The concept of these animal conflict styles is that ever person deals with conflict and arguments in different ways. These animals display certain characteristics that serve as good analogies for these various styles.

Training Wheels Online Store

Turtle (withdraw)–Withdraws  from the conflict (hides until it is safe to emerge)

Shark (force)—Forces and tries to make opponents accept his/her position

Bear (smooth)—Avoids conflict when possible

Owl (problem solver)—Views conflicts as problems to be solved, confronts, seeking solutions that will satisfy both parties

Rabbit—Runs and hides from any kind of conflict.

Bull—hits the issue head-on when provoked.  Certain triggers ignite anger.

Lion—Very proud, works within a group, is King of the jungle.  Another metaphor to work with is the “cowardly lion”, those that tuck their tail and run when faced with conflict.

Mouse—Very timid, runs from conflict.

Panther—Slinks around in the background, stalks his prey and pounces for the kill.

Chicken—Tend to flee from conflict and frighten easily.

Elephant—The strongest animal on earth, has an amazing memory, yet when faced with small restrictions (a rope around their foot) it paralyzes them from moving forward.

Horse—Can be tamed to do whatever their manager wants them to do.  Very loyal when treated properly.  When faced with conflict it rears back and attempts to protect itself.

Collecting the Animals

I found a website where you can purchase the animals all at once (click here) or you can gather them separately like I did. My animals have come from garage sales and dollar generals so you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Some of these animals are hard to find, so substitute as needed. I sub a sheep for the chicken and a dinosaur for the bull.

How to Process

I think this is a great opportunity for sand tray, but it’s not necessary.

Getting Started:

  • Individuals can determine their own conflict style
  • If this is done in an individual setting, the persona can guess the conflict style of others in their life.
  • If done in a group, each participant can share the conflict style they chose for themselves.

Questions to Ask:

  • Do you think you are always this “animal” when you are in a conflict, or do you change based on who the conflict is with? Why?
  • Have you always been this conflict style, or have you changed over time?
  • Do you agree with the other group members about their conflict style?
  • Do you identify with any other animals in their styles?
  • Which animal has a characteristic you would like to have? Why?
  • Which conflict styles made up your family of origin?
  • What are the pros and cons of the conflict styles in you and the members of the group?

Role Play:

Set up the animals who have conflict in the sand. I’ve got some examples below.

Shark vs Sheep

What does an argument between a shark (forceful) and a sheep (frightens easily) look like? I wonder how the sheep feels when they argue with a shark? What will this relationship look like over time?

Add in Horse

Does it help or hurt when a horse intervenes in the argument? Does the horse tend to side with the shark or the sheep?

Shark vs Dinosaur

Show me what your arguments look like between the shark and the dinosaur (bull). How does the shark over power? What might the owl say about this argument? How can the dinosaur behave differently next time?


The possibilities are endless!! Using these animals can bring up so many questions and opportunities for self-exploration. It’s fun, but also makes sense for people. If you have used this in another way, please share!

Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.