Successful Conflict Management
When working on teams with other people, conflict is an unavoidable fact of life. Different people inherently care about different things, and sometimes those concerns seem incompatible. Differences like this are the source of conflict. Conflict often gets a bad reputation, after all, it can create tension or strife, especially in the workplace. However, it can also be positive. In order to reach a sound decision or effective course of action, people need to be comfortable analyzing each other’s’ positions, finding weaknesses, and then working together to strengthen them. The key to producing a positive conflict is handling it appropriately.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) is best place to start understanding conflict. Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann developed this self-report questionnaire in the early 1970s to assess how different people work through interpersonal conflict. Based on this analysis, they were able to make recommendations for additional strategies people can use and the contexts in which they may be useful. Today, the TKI® is used to improve conflict resolution in a large number of contexts, including leadership seminars, team building workshops, and more.
Conflict Handling Modes of the TKI™
The TKI® identifies five conflict-handling modes depending on how assertive and how cooperative one is during a conflict. Assertiveness is how much one tries to “get their way” and achieve their own ends, while cooperativeness is how much they try to satisfy others’ concerns, often at the expense of their own. That said, it is possible to be both assertive and cooperative. For instance, if you are trying to negotiate to reach an agreement with another person, both of you might give ground so that you both end up better off. The five modes are competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. Let’s take a quick look at each one.
- Competing is both assertive and uncooperative. Those who compete voice strong opinions and do not shy away from trying to get their way, no matter what others think or say. They may even invoke their position in order to “win” an argument.
- Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative. Those who collaborate do their best to identify a course of action that meets the needs of all parties involved. While they may have strong opinions themselves, they also do their best to consider others’ also.
- Compromising is both assertive and cooperative. The classic example of a compromise is a financial negotiation where two people “meet in the middle” to find a win-win situation.
- Avoiding is both unassertive and uncooperative. Those who tend to avoid conflict may make decision on their own, without consulting anyone. That said, there may be times when tabling a discussion for later is beneficial.
- Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative. Those who accommodate others do whatever they can to make sure that others’ concerns are accounted for, without trying to assert their own values in any way.
Learning about the different modes of conflict handling and the behaviors they are associated with, especially in collaborative professional environments, is a great way to improve your own conflict management skills.
Introduction to Conflict Management (Kenneth W. Thomas, 2002, CPP Inc.)