Though conflict is a normal and natural part of any workplace, it can lead to absenteeism, lost productivity, and mental health issues. At the same time, conflict can be a motivator that generates new ideas and innovation as well as leads to increased flexibility and a better understanding of working relationships. However, conflict needs to be effectively managed in order to contribute to the success of organizations.

A critical competency for today’s working professionals is to understand that we each have our own way of dealing with conflict. According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI),

The TKI is an assessment that determines how you tend to respond to conflict (your preferred method), and what additional conflict-handling options are available to you. There are five major styles of conflict management—collaborating, competing, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising.

Knowing when and how to use each style can help control conflict and lead to an improved working environment, resulting in a better bottom line.

The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument begins by identifying the two basic dimensions of Conflict Behavior: 

  • Assertiveness: The degree to which you try to satisfy your own concerns during a conflict. This is related to how you might try to meet your needs or receive support for your ideas. 
  • Cooperativeness: The degree to which you try to satisfy the other individuals’ concerns. It is related to how you might try to help the other individual meet his or her needs or how you can be receptive to the other individuals’ ideas (Thomas 3-4). 

The TKI assessment applies these to the five conflict-handling modes listed below

Collaborating Style: A combination of being assertive and cooperative, those who collaborate attempt to work with others to identify a solution that fully satisfies everyone’s concerns. In this style, which is the opposite of avoiding, both sides can get what they want and negative feelings are minimized. Collaborating works best when the long-term relationship and outcome are important—for example, planning for integrating two departments into one, where you want the best of both in the newly formed department.

Competing Style: Those who compete are assertive and uncooperative and willing to pursue one’s own concerns at another person’s expense. Using this style works when you don’t care about the relationship but the outcome is important, such as when competing with another company for a new client. 

Avoiding Style: Those who avoid conflict tend to be unassertive and uncooperative while diplomatically sidestepping an issue or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation. “Use this when it is safer to postpone dealing with the situation or you don’t have as great a concern about the outcome, such as if you have a conflict with a co-worker about their ethics of using FaceTime on the job.”

Accommodating Style: The opposite of competing, there is an element of self-sacrifice when accommodating to satisfy the other person. While it may seem generous, it could take advantage of the weak and cause resentment. You can use accommodating when you really don’t care a lot about the outcome but do want to preserve or build the relationship.

Compromising Style: This style aims to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties in the conflict while maintaining some assertiveness and cooperativeness. “This style is best to use when the outcome is not crucial and you are losing time; for example, when you want to just make a decision and move on to more important things and are willing to give a little to get the decision made.

These conflict-handling modes illustrate general intentions and not necessarily specific behaviors that you may enact in a conflict situation

There is no single best way to handle every conflict. Each of the five conflict-handling modes has its own sets of benefits and costs. Each can be highly effective if used properly in the right circumstance. The key to successfully utilizing each conflict is based on knowing when to use each mode, and then having the skills to perform each mode well. The skill of your performance in each conflict-handling mode relies on your ability to recognize the benefits of a mode while also being able to minimize its cost. 

Over the next few blog articles we will take a more in depth look at each conflict handling mode and go through the list of benefits and costs of each style, along with related tips and feedback, so stay tuned!