Managing Change Toolkit

People in  Change

Conflict Strategies

The Five Conflict Handling Modes

These are used in the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, designed to assess an individual’s behaviour in conflict situations. “Conflict Situations” are situations in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, we can describe a person’s behaviour along two basic dimensions:

  1. assertiveness, the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy his/her own concerns, and
  2. cooperativeness, the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

These two basic dimensions of behaviour can be used to define five specific methods of dealing with conflicts. These five “conflict-handling modes” are shown below:

five types of group conflict behaviour


This is a power- oriented mode, in which one uses whatever power seems appropriate to win one’s own position - one’s ability to argue, one’s rank, economic sanctions.

Competing might mean “standing up for your rights”, defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.



When accommodating, an individual neglects their 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 one would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.



They do 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.



Collaborating involves an attempt to work with the other person to find some solution which fully satisfies the concerns of both persons. It means digging into an issue to identify the underlying concerns of the two individuals and to find an alternative which meets both sets of concerns.



The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution which partially satisfies both parties. It falls on a middle ground between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives 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 a quick middle-ground position.