Introduction to Conflict Styles
The Thomas Kilmann conflict mode instrument is a tool meant to help people understand the different ways in which they handle conflicts. It incorporates “five conflict-handling modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating (Schaubhut, 2007, p. 1). The modes are defined using two fundamental characteristics of an individual’s behavior – assertiveness and cooperativeness (Womack, 1988). Assertiveness is the measure of how much effort a person is willing to put into satisfying their own needs, while cooperativeness shows a willingness to fulfill the wishes of others. The instrument assesses the subject’s attitudes to conflict through a series of questions that indicate their preference towards each of the five styles.
The competing style is characterized by high assertiveness and low cooperativeness. People who use this style try to defend their point of view, without regard for the other person’s feelings or needs. This method is most viable when the problem requires a quick resolution, and the person making the decision is the most competent in the team. It is not recommended for complex issues that would benefit from a more profound discussion.
The collaborating style is both assertive and cooperative, meaning that there is an equal effort made to satisfy the needs of both parties. Its utility is at the highest level when the problem is complex and requires both sides to contribute a portion of the solution. This style is unlikely to provide benefits if one of the participants is not invested in achieving the desired outcome, or is not capable of solving their part of the issue.
The compromising style is similar to the collaborating style, but both the level of assertiveness and the level of cooperativeness are lower. This style is most appropriate to use when there is no possibility to reach a decision that would satisfy the requirements of both parties, or when a temporary solution is needed. It cannot be used when one participant occupies a more powerful position than the other and can assert their views.
The avoiding style is neither assertive nor cooperative, focusing on postponing the problem instead of solving it. It can be used productively if confrontation might be harmful in the long term, or when time is needed for both parties to come to a calmer state of mind. It is inadvisable to use this method with issues of utmost importance and urgency, or when it is clear who bears the responsibility for making the decision.
Finally, the accommodating style is cooperative and unassertive, aiming to satisfy the needs of the other person. It tends to be used when the problem is more significant to the other party, or when the individual wishes to avoid damaging their relationship. It should not be used for issues that are important to both participants, or when the person making the concession believes they are right.
My Conflict Style
Before using the instruments, I have considered the ways I tend to handle conflict and thought that avoiding and accommodating styles are the ones I use most often. According to the self-assessment Thomas Kilmann test I have taken to verify my assumptions, my scores are 5 for competing, 6 for collaborating, 4 for compromising, 8 for avoiding, and 7 for accommodating (Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Questionnaire, n.d.). This confirms my guess to some degree, but it seems that the collaborative style is also quite prominent in my behavior.
The weakest style for me is compromising, which indicates my unwillingness to surrender some of my own needs to satisfy part of the other person’s requirements. The competing style is only one point stronger, showing that I am not ready to pursue only my own desires either. The overall tendency seems to be characterized by a lack of assertiveness, which I do notice in the way I usually deal with conflict.
My strongest style is avoiding, followed closely by accommodating; both of these are useful in a limited range of cases. The avoiding style is rarely appropriate in my current life situation, as I often find myself in positions where I am responsible for solving a particular problem. The main benefit of the style for me is the fact that it allows both parties to rest before tackling the issues. The downside is that this is only useful when someone eventually takes responsibility for creating a solution, which is unlikely with the avoiding style. The accommodating style’s advantage of preserving the feelings of another person and my relationship with them is more suited to my life. However, in some cases, I use this style despite thinking that I am right, which results in unresolved conflicts. My life would benefit most from the collaborating and compromising styles, as I often face problems that require me to use them. To embrace these styles, I need to work on my assertiveness and learn to defend my position when necessary.
The importance of understanding each of these styles cannot be understated, because it is the crucial first step towards using them appropriately. Mastering these styles could yield substantial improvements in personal life, where it is vital to maintain a balance between fulfilling the needs of a partner, and not neglecting one’s own. Moreover, it is indispensable for professionals, since they often have to choose a fitting style for each problem they face, especially when working with a team.
Womack, D. F. (1988). Assessing the Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode survey. Management Communication Quarterly, 1(3), 321–349.