Conflict management styles


Conflict usually causes one of two reactions, fear, or excitement. We’re either avoiding or engaging in conflict. The ability to truly resolve conflict in both the professional and personal facets of our lives is an essential skill for any individual. Conflict requires management. Let’s take a closer look. 

What is conflict management

Conflict management is the process by which disputes, problems and interpersonal issues are resolved. It’s usually the steps we take to change a situation between two or more people. Some conflict management examples might include, resolving a dispute between two staff members or yourself and another. Conflict management is often required within a team, an organisation, and at times even with clients. For more detailed advice on how to resolve conflict within an organisation click here. For more detailed advice on how to resolve conflict in a workplace click here.  Naturally over the course of our personal and professional lives we develop patterns of behaviour that become our own conflict management style. 

What are conflict management styles?

A conflict management style is simply the way we choose to approach any given conflict. The Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a conflict style inventory, which is a tool developed to measure an individual’s response to conflict situations. There are 5 conflict style modes. Compromising, Accommodating, Avoiding, Competing and Collaborating. For example, we may ascribe to a compromising style of conflict management whereby one might be focused on splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position. You may ascribe to an accommodating style of conflict management whereby you engage in selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.

If you’re looking to better understand your conflict style you may chose to undertake further training. This training can be conducted face to face or online. Across Australia & New Zealand. 

Benefits of understanding your conflict management style

Why understand your own style? There are great benefits to understanding your own conflict management style and your predispositions towards conflict. As mentioned earlier in this article, over the course of our careers we develop patterns of behaviour that become our own conflict management style. The trouble is the style we use may not be the best one to resolve the conflict we face. The more we know about how we respond to conflict the more likely we become to change our approach for improved outcome. 

Best conflict management styles

The best conflict management style is one that truly resolves not only emotional dimension of the conflict but also the substantive issue at hand. There is not one style better than the other when managing conflict. You need to have a definitive process to follow to fully understand where both parties are coming from and how they go there. Once we’ve used this approach to deescalate emotion, we then need to solve the problem at hand. In following this process, we may need to adopt different styles or modes to reach a desired outcome.  Let’s examine each the Thomas Kilmann styles/modes to better understand each mode/style. The TKI uses two axes (influenced by the Mouton and Blake axes) called “assertiveness” and “cooperativeness.”. 

  • Compromising

Compromising is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. When compromising, an individual has the objective of finding an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromising falls on a middle ground between competing and accommodating, giving up more than competing but less than accommodating. Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding but doesn’t explore it in as much depth as collaborating. Compromising might mean splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position.

  • Accommodating

Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative—the opposite of competing. When accommodating, an individual neglects his or her own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person; there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.

  • Avoiding 

Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative. When avoiding, an individual does not immediately pursue his or her own concerns or those of the other person. He or she does not address the conflict. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.

  • Competing

Competing is assertive and uncooperative, a power-oriented mode. When competing, an individual pursues his or her own concerns at the other person’s expense, using whatever power seems appropriate to win his or her position. Competing might mean standing up for your rights, defending a position you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

  • Collaborative.

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative. When collaborating, an individual attempts to work with the other person to find a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of both. It involves digging into an issue to identify the underlying concerns of the two individuals and to find an alternative that meets both sets of concerns. Collaborating between two persons might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights, resolving some condition that would otherwise have them competing for resources, or confronting and trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem

How to choose conflict management style for yourself

When considering integrating a new style of conflict management into your repertoire consider these five modes/ styles above. Consider which style is likely to resolve the conflict in a way that builds relationship. Compromising and Collaborating tend to rear positive mutually beneficial outcomes faster compared to Avoiding, Accommodating or Competing. However different scenarios call for different styles.

Final Words

Conflict requires management. To better manage conflict within your personal or professional life you might consider training to better understand your conflict management style and to utilise a process or framework to assist you. Knowing how to manage conflict can improve interpersonal relationships within your personal life and organisation. 

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