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Are You in Conflict Autopilot? Switch Gears and Choose Your Conflict Approach

church-meeting-conflict1The goal of conflict management is to not eliminate conflict, but to have the skills to manage conflict effectively. When I started my journey into effectively resolving conflict, I needed to be aware of how I handled my own conflicts. A tool I used to discover my own conflict management style was the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). The TKI was created by Kenneth W. Thomas, Ph.D. and Dr. Ralph Kilmann. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the TKI, which is designed to measure your conflict behavior. The TKI looks at two dimension’s assertiveness (trying to satisfy your own needs) and cooperativeness (trying to satisfy the needs of others). The instrument is comprised of five styles for handling conflict that have a place on either dimension. These styles are: Accommodating, Avoiding, Collaborating, Competing, and Compromising. The TKI helps you determine whether or not you are using all five conflict styles or if you are stuck in one way of handling conflict. According to the TKI website, Kilmann defines each style below:

Accommodating – At the expense of your own needs, you satisfy the others. During conflicts that mean more to the other party than yourself, accommodation may be appropriate.

Avoiding – You sit idle and don’t address your needs or the other parties’ needs. This may be appropriate if emotions are high, or the other person is more qualified to resolve the problem.

Collaborating – Work to find solutions that satisfy all the needs of the parties involved. This is best for complicated situations where you need to determine what the best options are.

Competing – At the expense of others you satisfy your own needs. This may be useful during times decisions need to be made fast.

Compromising – The resolution only satisfies some of your needs. This may be useful when both parties are equals and unable to move forward. 

Each conflict situation gives you an opportunity to choose which style is best to use.  The goal is to successfully incorporate all styles into your dealings with conflict. For example, if I am on a working group for an upcoming project, competing when conflict arises would not be the best option. As a group we need to work together to work through the conflicts that come up, making collaboration more appropriate. When I completed the TKI, I discovered that I was stuck in habitually using accommodation as an approach regardless of whether the conflict was with family, friends, or co-workers. Now that I am aware, I make a conscious effort to think about which style would be more appropriate, instead of defaulting to accommodation. To learn more about the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, you can listen to the podcasts where the Texas Conflict Coach® speaks to Dr. Ralph Kilmann regarding his conflict assessment tool. Don’t run on autopilot in conflict; learn the conflict management styles in order to determine the best approach for you.

By Tracy Culbreath

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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