Understanding Conflict Management Styles

The Conflict Management Styles inventory allows you to discover whether you might be overusing or underusing one or more of five conflict-handling modes (collaborating, competing, compromising, accommodating, and avoiding), so you can improve how you manage conflict!

Consider situations in which you find your wishes differing from those of another person. Each of us is capable of using all five conflict modes, and none of us can be characterized as having a single rigid style of dealing with conflict. However, because of personality traits or by habit, individuals tend to use one or two modes at a greater frequency than the others.

Based on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

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The Conflict Management Styles inventory is designed to measure a person’s behavior in conflict situations. “Conflict situations” are those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible.

In such conflict situations, we can describe an individual’s behavior along two dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

These two underlying dimensions of human behavior (assertiveness and cooperativeness) can then be used to define five different modes for responding to conflict situations:

From the TKI Assessment Tool

Time to Take the Understanding Your Conflict Management Styles Quiz

Visit https://bit.ly/lvaconflict for the Social Styles Quiz – return to this page to learn more about your preferred style.

Conflict Management Style Descriptions

Competing Styles

Competing is assertive and uncooperative—an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person’s expense. This is a power-oriented mode in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position—your ability to argue, your rank, or economic sanctions. Competing means “standing up for your rights,” defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

  • Competitors use a forcing or competing conflict management style
  • Competitors are highly goal-oriented; relationships take on a lower priority
  • Competitors do not hesitate to use aggressive behavior to resolve conflicts
  • Competitors can be autocratic, authoritative, and uncooperative; threatening and intimidating
  • Competitors have a need to win; therefore others must lose, creating win-lose situations
  • Advantage: if the Competitor’s decision is correct, a better decision without compromise can result
  • Disadvantage: may breed hostility and resentment toward the person using it
  • Appropriate times to use a Competing style
    • when the conflict involves personal differences that are difficult to change
    • when fostering intimate or supportive relationships is not critical
    • when others are likely to take advantage of noncompetitive behavior
    • when conflict resolution is urgent; when the decision is vital in a crisis
    • when unpopular decisions need to be implemented

Avoiding Styles

Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative—the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual. Thus he does not deal with 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.

  • Avoiders adopt an avoiding or withdrawing conflict management style
  • Avoiders would rather hide and ignore conflict than resolve it; this leads them uncooperative and unassertive
  • Avoiders tend to give up personal goals and display passive behavior creating lose-lose situations
  • Advantage: may help to maintain relationships that would be hurt by conflict resolution
  • Disadvantage: conflicts remain unresolved, overuse of the style leads to others walking over them
  • Appropriate times to use an Avoiding Style:
    • when the stakes are not high or issue is trivial
    • when confrontation will hurt a working relationship
    • when there is little chance of satisfying your wants
    • when disruption outweighs benefit of conflict resolution
    • when gathering information is more important than an immediate decision
    • when others can more effectively resolve the conflict
    • when time constraints demand a delay

Accommodating Styles

Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of competing. When accommodating, the individual neglects his 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 you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.

  • Accommodator use a smoothing or cooperative conflict management style with emphasis on human relationships
  • Accommodator ignore their own goals and resolve conflict by giving into others; unassertive and cooperative creating a win-lose (accommodator is loser) situation
  • Advantage: accommodating maintains relationships
  • Disadvantage: giving in may not be productive, bear may be taken advantage of
  • Appropriate times to use an Accommodating Style
    • when maintaining the relationship outweighs other considerations
    • when suggestions/changes are not important to the accommodator
    • when minimizing losses in situations where outmatched or losing
    • when time is limited or when harmony and stability are valued

Compromising Styles

Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls intermediate between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than accommodating. Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding, but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

  • Compromisers use a compromising conflict management style; concern is for goals and relationships
  • Compromisers are willing to sacrifice some of their goals while persuading others to give up part of theirs
  • Compromiser is assertive and cooperative-result is either win-lose or lose-lose
  • Advantage: relationships are maintained and conflicts are removed
  • Disadvantage: compromise may create less than ideal outcome and game playing can result
  • Appropriate times to use a Compromising Style
    • when important/complex issues leave no clear or simple solutions
    • when all conflicting people are equal in power and have strong interests in different solutions
    • when there are no time restraints

Collaborating Styles

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating involves an attempt to work with others to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the two individuals. Collaborating between two persons might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.

  • Collaborator use a collaborating or problem-confronting conflict management style valuing their goals and relationships
  • Collaborators view conflicts as problems to be solved finding solutions agreeable to all sides (win-win)
  • Advantage: both sides get what they want and negative feelings eliminated
  • Disadvantage: takes a great deal of time and effort
  • Appropriate times to use a Collaborating Style
    • when maintaining relationships is important
    • when time is not a concern
    • when peer conflict is involved
    • when trying to gain commitment through consensus building
    • when learning and trying to merge differing perspectives

What is your preferred style?

• In what situations do you think your style works best?

• When does it not work?

• What is your organization’s or your workplace’s preferred style for managing disagreements?

• Is your preferred style acceptable in your organization’s culture?

Review your current conflict.

  • What is the conflict management style of the person with whom you’re in conflict?
  • Do your conflict management styles collide?
  • If so, how?

Want to Explore Your Style in Depth?

I have worked with college students, entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly two decades, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.