2007 Fall/Winter Volume 7 No. 2

Conflict Management Styles

What They Are and When to Use Them

When you’re in the heat of the battle, whether you are providing service during the busy season or seeking new business during slow periods, things can be much more difficult when there are conflicts within your staff. Being up to your ears in alligators while trudging through the swamp is not fun and, if not handled well, allowing matters to go unmanaged can result in matters becoming worse rather than better.

Here are a few thoughts on conflict management styles and how to use them from research psychologists, Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann1.

Style #1: Avoiding
Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative. As the name implies, when this style is used, the problem is simply avoided. Use it with trivial problems or when confrontation would do more harm than good.

Style #2: Collaborating
The opposite of avoiding, collaborating involves working with other people to find a solution that will satisfy everyone. This style is both assertive and cooperative. When you collaborate, you admit that all parties’ concerns are equally important and look for innovative ways to integrate both perspectives.

Style #3: Accommodating
Accommodating puts the other person’s concerns above your own. It is best used when you know that the problem is more important to the other person than it is to you, or when you simply know you’re wrong.

Style #4: Competing
Competing is putting your concerns above the other person’s and doing whatever is necessary to win. It is assertive and uncooperative — the opposite of accommodating. If you must make a quick or unpopular decision, this is a possible approach. Use this style in a crisis, or when you must make a strong decision based on principle.

Style #5: Compromising
Compromising involves an attempt to reach a mutually satisfying solution. Because both sides have to make concessions, however, compromising splits the pie that collaborating attempts to make larger. Compromising may result in a mutually unsatisfying solution.

1Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Kenneth W. Thomas, Ralph H. Kilmann, CPP, Inc., and Davies-Black® Publishing

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