What’s your conflict style?

Communication and conflict go hand-in-hand when we work together on teams—especially when decisions need to be made. Our need to work together to achieve our goals bumps up against our varying responsibilities, temperaments, values, information, expertise, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Each of us has a personal approach to dealing with conflict situations.

You might become more assertive in times of stress seeking to satisfy your own needs. Or perhaps you display more cooperative behaviors to satisfy the needs of others. Within these two dimensions of assertiveness and cooperativeness the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) identifies five different styles that people adopt in conflict situations. 

  • Accommodate—unassertive, cooperative: puts others’ interests first
  • Avoid—unassertive, uncooperative: leaves issues unresolved
  • Collaborate—assertive and cooperative: seeks to satisfy all interests
  • Compete—assertive and uncooperative: promotes self-interests first
  • Compromise—mid-assertive and mid-cooperative: strikes balance between interests

Each style has its strengths and weaknesses. Each of the five modes or styles of handling conflict have strengths and weaknesses depending on context. For example, avoidance might be your primary response to conflict. That can be helpful when you are dealing with an issue that, like unripe fruit, needs time to mature before handling. But if the issue is ripe, and action is necessary, avoidance becomes a liability. Likewise, if collaborating is your default reaction to the stress of conflict, you may do a good job finding solutions that completely satisfy your needs and the needs of others. On the downside, at times you may be seen by others as unable to make independent decisions. You can intuit your style and how it shifts as the stress of conflict mounts. Or you can learn more about the TKI as a tool for assessing and adapting how you and your team work through conflict.

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