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:
- assertiveness, the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy his/her own concerns, and
- 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:
- Pursuing own concerns at the other person’s expense - “Might makes right”
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 quick, decisive action is vital - e.g. emergencies.
- On important issues where unpopular courses of action need implementing - e.g. cost cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline.
- On issues vital to company welfare when you know you’re right.
- To protect yourself against people who take advantage of non-competitive behaviour.
- The opposite of competing - “Kill your enemies with "kindness"
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.
- When you realise that you are wrong.
- When the issue is much more important to the other person than to yourself.
- To build up social support/credits for later issues which are important to you.
- When continued competition would only damage your cause or when preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important.
- Does not immediately pursue their own concerns or those of the other person - “Leave well enough alone”
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.
- When an issue is trivial or of low priority.
- When you perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns.
- When the potential damage of confronting a conflict outweighs the benefits.
- To let people cool down .
- When gathering more information outweighs the advantages of an immediate decision.
- When others can resolve the conflict more effectively.
- The opposite of avoiding - “Two heads are better than one”
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.
- When both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised.
- When your objective is to learn - e.g. understanding the views of others.
- To merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem.
- To gain commitment by incorporating others’ concerns into a consensual decision.
- To work through hard feelings.
- Intermediate - “Split the difference”
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.
- When goals are moderately important, but not worth the effort of more assertive modes.
- When two opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals - as in labour- management bargaining.
- To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.
- To arrive at expedient solutions under time pressures.
- All five modes are useful in some situations: each represents a set of useful social skills.
- Each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes: none of us can be characterised as having a single, rigid style of dealing with conflict. However, any given individual uses some modes better than others and therefore, tends to rely upon them.
- The conflict behaviours which an individual uses are a result of both their personal predispositions and the requirements of the situations in which they find themselves.