5 Conflict Management Styles at a Glance
“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” — Max Lucade
How you respond to and resolve conflict will limit or enable your success.
My goal with this post is to give you the tools to understand conflict, learn your own conflict patterns.
This will empower you to make more effective choices when you are finding or facing conflict.
Embrace Conflict as a Source of Growth and Transformation
Conflict can come from a variety of sources:
- Goals. Conflict can happen as a result of conflicting goals or priorities. It can also happen when there is a lack of shared goals.
- Personality conflicts. Personality conflicts are a common cause of conflict. Sometimes there is no chemistry, or you haven’t figured out an effective way to click with somebody.
- Scarce resources. Conflict can happen when you’re competing over scarce resources.
- Styles. People have different styles. Your thinking style or communication style might conflict with somebody else’s thinking style or their communication style. The good news is that conflicts in styles are easy to adapt to when you know how.
- Values. Sometimes you will find conflict in values. The challenge here is that values are core. Adapting with styles is one thing, but dealing with conflicting values is another. That’s why a particular business, group, or culture may not be a good fit for you. It’s also why “bird’s of a feather flock together” and why “opposites attract, but similarities bind.”
By embracing conflict as a part of life, you can make the most of each situation and use it as a learning opportunity or a leadership opportunity.
You can also use it as an opportunity to transform the situation into something better.
Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is a model for handling conflict:
The model organizes 5 conflict management styles based on two dimensions:
assertiveness and cooperativeness.
5 Conflict Management Styles
Here are the five conflict management styles according to Thomas, K.W., and R.H. Kilmann:
- Accommodating – This is when you cooperate to a high-degree, and it may be at your own expense, and actually work against your own goals, objectives, and desired outcomes. This approach is effective when the other party is the expert or has a better solution. It can also be effective for preserving future relations with the other party.
- Avoiding - This is when you simply avoid the issue. You aren’t helping the other party reach their goals, and you aren’t assertively pursuing your own. This works when the issue is trivial or when you have no chance of winning. It can also be effective when the issue would be very costly. It’s also very effective when the atmosphere is emotionally charged and you need to create some space. Sometimes issues will resolve themselves, but “hope is not a strategy”, and, in general, avoiding is not a good long term strategy.
- Collaborating – This is where you partner or pair up with the other party to achieve both of your goals. This is how you break free of the “win-lose” paradigm and seek the “win-win.” This can be effective for complex scenarios where you need to find a novel solution. This can also mean re-framing the challenge to create a bigger space and room for everybody’s ideas. The downside is that it requires a high-degree of trust and reaching a consensus can require a lot of time and effort to get everybody on board and to synthesize all the ideas.
- Competing – This is the “win-lose” approach. You act in a very assertive way to achieve your goals, without seeking to cooperate with the other party, and it may be at the expense of the other party. This approach may be appropriate for emergencies when time is of the essence, or when you need quick, decisive action, and people are aware of and support the approach.
- Compromising – This is the “lose-lose” scenario where neither party really achieves what they want. This requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation. It may be appropriate for scenarios where you need a temporary solution, or where both sides have equally important goals. The trap is to fall into compromising as an easy way out, when collaborating would produce a better solution.
By knowing your own default patterns you improve your self-awareness. Once you are aware of your own patterns, you can pay attention to whether they are working for you and you can explore alternatives.
By using a scenario-based approach, you can choose more effective conflict management styles and test their effectiveness for you and your situations.
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