Pros & Cons of Competing (or Assertive) Conflict Management Style

In the realm of conflict management, the Competing (or Assertive) style stands out for its distinctive approach, marked by high assertiveness and low cooperativeness. This style, one of the five identified by the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, prioritizes the individual’s goals and needs often at the expense of those with whom they are in conflict. While this approach can be highly effective in certain contexts, such as emergency situations requiring quick decisions or instances where non-negotiable standards must be upheld, it is not without its drawbacks. The effectiveness of the Competing style can vary greatly depending on the situation and the relationships between the parties involved. In this analysis, we will delve into the nuanced landscape of the Competing conflict management style, examining both its advantages and disadvantages. Through understanding both sides of this approach, individuals and leaders can make more informed decisions on when and how to apply it for optimal outcomes in conflict resolution.

What is Competing (or Assertive) conflict management style?

The Competing (or Assertive) conflict management style is one of the five primary approaches to handling disputes or disagreements identified in the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). This style is characterized by high assertiveness and low cooperativeness, where individuals prioritize their own needs, goals, or concerns over those of others involved in the conflict. People using this style tend to seek control over the outcome of the conflict, striving to win or achieve their objectives without seeking to find a compromise or to collaboratively explore mutual solutions.

Individuals adopting the Competing style often do so because they believe their solution or perspective is the correct one, because they have a strong commitment to their own values or goals, or because they need to make quick or unpopular decisions. This approach is particularly evident in high-stakes situations where decisive action is required, during emergencies, or when a clear resolution is needed without room for ambiguity.

Characteristics of the Competing Style include:

  • A focus on winning or achieving one’s own goals, often at the expense of others.
  • A tendency to dominate or assert one’s position strongly.
  • Little to no attempt to seek agreement or consensus.
  • Use of power, authority, or other resources to enforce a decision or outcome.

In practice, the Competing style might look like:

  • A manager unilaterally deciding on a new policy implementation without consulting the team, based on their belief that it’s the best decision for the organization.
  • During a negotiation, one party insists on their terms without considering the needs or proposals of the other side.
  • In a team meeting, an individual pushing their idea forward, dismissing alternative suggestions because they are confident their solution is the most effective.

While the Competing style can be effective in certain scenarios, especially those requiring quick, decisive action, it can also lead to strained relationships, decreased morale, and resistance from others if overused or applied inappropriately. Recognizing when and how to use this conflict management style, balancing it with other approaches when necessary, is crucial for effective leadership, negotiation, and relationship management.

Pros of Competing (or Assertive) conflict management style

The Competing (or Assertive) conflict management style is characterized by a high level of assertiveness with little to no emphasis on cooperation. Individuals who adopt this style are primarily focused on achieving their own goals and interests, often at the expense of others. While this approach can seem aggressive or unyielding, it has several advantages in certain contexts. Below, we’ll explore the pros of this style with examples to illustrate its effectiveness.

Pros of Competing Conflict Management Style

  1. Quick Decision-Making: The competing style allows for rapid decisions because it cuts through prolonged debate and discussion. This is particularly beneficial in emergency situations or when time is of the essence.
    Example: In a medical emergency, a senior surgeon may decide to perform an immediate procedure despite the junior team’s hesitations. The assertive decision ensures timely intervention, prioritizing patient safety over team consensus.
  2. Clarity and Direction: This style provides clear direction and leadership, which can be crucial in situations requiring strong guidance. By asserting a firm stance, leaders can prevent confusion and ensure that goals are pursued decisively.
    Example: In a software development project facing a tight deadline, the project manager decides to prioritize certain features over others to meet the launch date. This assertive direction prevents team confusion and focuses efforts on critical tasks.
  3. Protection of Vital Interests: When core values, essential needs, or significant interests are at stake, the competing style helps individuals stand firm and protect these priorities.
    Example: A company may refuse to compromise on quality standards during contract negotiations with suppliers. By being assertive, the company protects its brand reputation and ensures product excellence, even if it strains supplier relationships.
  4. Efficiency in Low-Stakes Situations: In conflicts where the stakes are low for one party but high for the other, adopting a competing style can resolve the issue quickly, allowing focus to shift back to more important tasks.
    Example: A team leader insists on using a specific software for task management despite minor objections from a few team members. The decision, while assertive, ensures that the team doesn’t waste time deliberating over a relatively trivial matter.
  5. Boosting Self-Esteem: Successfully asserting one’s interests or achieving goals through the competing style can enhance self-confidence and assertiveness in individuals. This can be particularly empowering in environments where decisiveness is valued.
    Example: A salesperson negotiates aggressively to close a deal on favorable terms. Achieving this outcome not only benefits the salesperson’s targets but also boosts their confidence in negotiation skills.

Cons of Competing (or Assertive) conflict management style and how to handle them

  1. Strained Relationships: The focus on winning can lead to others feeling undervalued, ignored, or disrespected, harming long-term relationships.
    Example: A manager consistently overrides their team’s suggestions in favor of their own decisions, leading to team members feeling demotivated and disengaged.
    Handling Strategy: Balance assertiveness with active listening. Acknowledge others’ viewpoints and demonstrate empathy to build trust and respect, even if the final decision doesn’t align with their preferences.
  2. Creates a Win-Lose Environment: This style can cultivate an atmosphere where collaboration is undervalued, and every conflict is seen as a battle to be won, discouraging teamwork.
    Example: In a sales team competing for the same clients, team members may withhold information from each other to secure personal wins, undermining team cohesion and overall performance.
    Handling Strategy: Foster a culture of shared goals and mutual success. Encourage team-building activities and collaborative projects to highlight the value of working together.
  3. Increased Stress and Anxiety: Constantly engaging in competition can be mentally and emotionally draining, leading to increased stress levels for both the individual employing this style and those around them.
    Example: A project leader who pushes aggressively for deadlines and deliverables without considering team capacity may experience burnout and see an increase in team turnover.
    Handling Strategy: Practice self-awareness and stress management techniques. Encourage open dialogue about work-life balance and implement regular check-ins to monitor team well-being.
  4. Resistance and Retaliation: People who feel steamrolled by competing tactics may become resistant or actively retaliate, leading to escalated conflicts and decreased productivity.
    Example: A department head who insists on cutting budgets without consulting team leads may face passive-aggressive resistance or deliberate slowdowns in project execution.
    Handling Strategy: Use negotiation and mediation techniques to find common ground. Show willingness to make concessions where appropriate to demonstrate that everyone’s input is valued.
  5. Stifling Innovation and Creativity: An overemphasis on assertiveness can suppress diverse ideas and approaches, limiting creativity and innovation within teams.
    Example: An innovation team leader dismisses unconventional ideas in favor of tried-and-tested methods, resulting in stagnation and a lack of groundbreaking products.
    Handling Strategy: Cultivate an environment where all ideas are welcome, and failure is seen as part of the learning process. Regularly solicit and reward creative solutions and risk-taking.


The Competing (or Assertive) conflict management style, characterized by its focus on individual goals and a firm stance, holds a unique position within the spectrum of conflict resolution strategies. Its advantages, such as the ability to make quick decisions, provide clear direction, and protect vital interests, make it an invaluable tool in high-stakes and urgent situations. However, these strengths are counterbalanced by significant drawbacks, including the potential for strained relationships, the creation of win-lose scenarios, increased stress, resistance from others, and stifled innovation. The key to leveraging the Competing style effectively lies in understanding its inherent pros and cons and discerning the appropriate context for its use. Balancing assertiveness with empathy, fostering an environment conducive to collaboration, and embracing flexibility in conflict management approaches can mitigate the drawbacks while capitalizing on the strengths of the Competing style. Ultimately, the goal in conflict resolution should be to navigate disputes in a way that respects the needs and perspectives of all parties involved, striving for outcomes that are not only effective in the short term but also sustainable and harmonious in the long run.

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