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The Conflict Paradox – Avoiding It Creates It


Conflicts play a fundamental role in human interactions whether with your closest friends, at home with your family or even in the work environment. We have all experienced conflict in our lives and yet each of us views conflict very differently. Different perspectives and situations actively shape the way we deal with conflict. There are many unique and personal definitions. In order to understand these varying views and perceptions, I decided to interview a few members of the community. I asked them what they thought conflict was and what it meant to them.

“Conflict is something that causes an unprecedented problem and makes for hard decisions. It means that people aren’t on the same page and have different views, beliefs or cultures.”

“Conflict, for me, is a serious argument that has the potential to escalate into something more violent.”

“To me, conflict is when a disagreement or obstacle gets in the way of something you are trying to achieve.”

“Conflict, to me, is when two or more parties have some type of disagreement that needs to be resolved through a type of negotiation. I think the spectrum level could run from something minor to a full out war.”

“Conflict is part of my daily life at work, as well as in my private life. It’s needed to work out problems, but I personally like to avoid it.”

It is quite easy to see the different ways that the interviewees understand and define conflict in their lives. While one individual sees conflict as an issue of views, beliefs or cultures, another interviewee feels that the conflict is a path towards violence. Similar to the diverse ways to comprehend and define conflict, individuals choose to manage their conflicts in different ways. During my freshman year at Salisbury University, I lived in the on-campus dorms. Over the course of the semester, I started to notice that I got ready at the same time as the student who lived next door to me. We exchanged a few words every morning through some groggy mumbling. After some time though, we talked to each other more frequently and started to have real conversations. However, to my surprise, he decided to ignore me one day. He stopped greeting me in the morning and we did not talk to each other at all. Feeling like I had done something wrong, I decided to stay quiet and let him be. A couple of weeks went by with us silently brushing our teeth next to each other. I started getting frustrated and tried not to care. We barely had any communication until the end of that year when he overheard me talking to his roommate about the situation. Upset by the fact that I was blaming the awkward silence on him, he decided to express how he felt. I learned that he was feeling the same way as me and was confused when I stopped talking to him one day. Both of us spent an entire year not talking to each other because we thought some conflict existed between us. In reality, by us avoiding the situation, we created the conflict.

Our views of conflict impact how we engage in perceived conflict. There are many different ways to manage conflicts. Avoidance is a common method and even one of the interviewees stressed the fact that they would rather avoid conflicts than engage in them. In an online resource titled The Five Conflict Styles, the author, Burrell, discusses how avoidance can be both beneficial and detrimental to a conflict. In some cases, such as when tensions are high in a conflict, avoidance can be beneficial to de-escalate the situation. However, avoidance often means that you hold on to all your discomforts, and since this is counter-productive, it allows for problems to linger unmanaged. Many of us who consistently choose to avoid conflict sometimes fear potential outcomes. Maybe you have had negative encounters in the past when addressing conflicts, and, therefore, you would rather avoid conflict entirely. By staying silent and directly ignoring your needs, as well as the other party’s needs, the conflict does not get managed effectively. That being said, additional conflict styles identified by Ralph Kilmann and Ken Thomas, are Accommodating, Collaborating, Competing, and Compromising. Each style when used appropriately can assist you in engaging in conflict productively.

Check out this previous blog post to learn more about the conflict styles!

Also, if you are not sure entirely sure which conflict style you rely most on, check out the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument to help determine your behavior in conflict.


John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution



Burrell, Bonnie. “The Five Conflict Styles.” Conflict Management. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

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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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