Conflict is a normal part of any workplace. It can lead to absenteeism, lost productivity, and mental health issues. At the same time, conflict can be a motivator that generates new ideas and innovation, increased flexibility and a better understanding of working relationships. However, conflict needs to be effectively managed in order to contribute to success. A critical competency for today’s professionals is to understand that we each have our own way of dealing with conflict. At UC Hastings and Berkeley Law, we taught the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to gain insight into the various conflict modes. The TKI is the world’s most used conflict-management tool for the workplace.
The TKI begins by identifying the two basic dimensions of conflict behavior:

  • Assertiveness:The degree to which you try to satisfy your own concerns during a conflict. This is related to how you might try to meet your needs or receive support for your ideas.
  • Cooperativeness:The degree to which you try to satisfy the other individuals’  It is related to how you might try to help the other individual meet his or her needs or how you can be receptive to the other individuals’ ideas (Thomas 3-4).

The TKI assessment applies these to the five conflict-handling modes listed below. By applying the basic two dimensions of Assertiveness and Cooperativeness to the five conflict-handling modes, you create the five major combinations possible in a conflict situation.

  • Competing:Is assertive and uncooperative. In this mode, you try to satisfy your own concerns at the other person’s expense.
  • Collaborating:Is both assertive and cooperative. In this mode, you try to find a win-win solution that completely satisfies the concerns of both individuals involved.
  • CompromisingIs intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. In this mode, you try to find an acceptable solution that only partially satisfies both individual’s concerns.
  • Avoiding:Is both unassertive and uncooperative. In this mode, you work to sidestep the conflict without attempting to satisfy either individual’s concerns.
  • Accommodating: Is unassertive and cooperative. In this mode, you try to satisfy the other person’s concerns at the expense of your own concerns.

So which mode is best? All of them! All modes are useful and effective, depending on the context and the conflict style of the other party. There is no single best way to handle every conflict. Each of the five conflict-handling modes has its own sets of benefits and costs. Each can be highly effective if used properly in the right circumstance. To be a truly effective negotiator, you will be familiar with your own natural conflict mode and learn the flexibility to adopt other modes to suit a situation (while always remaining true to yourself).
The full TKI is available at cost to individuals and groups, but you can see an abridged adaptation of the assessment tool here.

Those who know Pactum Factum Principal Lucia Kanter St. Amour will not be surprised to learn that her TKI mode is co-dominant in Collaborating and Competing.