How do you deal with conflict?

  • This may be obvious to most, but people do not all handle conflict the same way.  As I sat down to write this, I decided to do a quick google of “handling conflict” and came up with many, many articles and blog posts telling you exactly what to do to handle conflict.  While many had good things to say, most of the articles missed a couple of key points:
  1. There are different styles of dealing with conflict.
  2. Different conflict scenarios require different methods.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict MODE Instrument (TKI) is a short set of questions that identifies your conflict style.  In use for over 30 years, it identifies 5 general styles of dealing with conflict   These are plotted on 2 dimensions, assertiveness (satisfying your own needs) and cooperativeness (satisfying the needs of others).

  1. accommodate – unassertive, cooperative, puts others interests first
  2. avoid – unassertive, uncooperative, fails to resolve issues
  3. collaborate – assertive and cooperative, works to satisfy all interests
  4. compete – assertive, uncooperative, puts own self-interests first
  5. compromise – falls in the middle of both scales

A similar tool was developed by Ron Kraybill, entitled Style Matters: The Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory, which uses the same 5 categories as the TKI.  The Kraybill Inventory differs from the TKI in that rather than given either yes or no choices, the questions are answered on a 6-point spectrum from “not at all characteristic” to “very characteristic.”  It also scores individuals in both “calm” and “forced” categories, recognizing that people behave differently when they are under pressure.


As with the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory (another great tool, and useful alongside of the conflict inventories noted above), the TKI and Kraybill tests only give you information about yourself; it’s up to you to put the information to use.

If you look at the 5 categories listed above, you’ll perhaps notice that none of them are particularly positive, with the possible exception of “collaborate.”  All of them may be quite negative, especially if that is your default mode.  For example, it’s unhealthy to avoid all conflict, just as it is to always accommodate others, or always compete.  Conversely, it is sometimes good to avoid conflict or be willing to accommodate others when the outcome is not particularly important to you.

All conflict management styles have their place; someone who is able to shift to each style as called for is probably going to be the most successful at dealing with conflict, as well as the happiest person in the long run.

For some who lean heavily toward one style or another and find it hard to deviate from the default mode, it would be quite beneficial to get some counseling or coaching on how to approach a specific issue, such as a workplace issue, or life in general.  The Coaching concept has become quite popular, both in an outside of the workplace, and is particularly well-suited to helping people deal with conflict.

Test yourself

What is your conflict style?   If you’ve 15 minutes to spare, you can take the Adult Personal Conflict Style Inventory online for free.  This test is an early version of the Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory, and gives you an immediate score.  For a more detailed analysis, the TKI and Kraybill inventories are available here:

  • TKI
  • Kraybill – Style Matters
  • Late Breaking News:  Ron Kraybill e-mailed me this morning, saying

    We’ve just completed an online version and at least for now are offering people a free test drive for purposes of considering it for training, consulting, or group sessions.  Users can request a free pass by sending a note requesting it to:, and include their name, usage under consideration, and their role.   We’ll reply with a pass, usually within twelve hours.

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