Managing Conflict
Thomas-Kilman descibed two axis method for managing conflicts
  • Cooperation axis is also sometimes about the degree of focus on relationships.
  • Assertiveness axis is also sometimes about the focus on outcomes.
  • Avoiding
    The avoiding mode is low assertiveness and low cooperation. Many times people will avoid conflicts out of fear of engaging in a conflict or because they do not have confidence in their conflict management skills. Times when the avoiding mode is appropriate are when you have issues of low importance, to reduce tensions, to buy some time, or when you are in a position of lower power.

    Avoiding Skills

  • Ability to withdraw • Ability to sidestep issues
  • Ability to leave things unresolved • Sense of timing
  • Accommodating
    The accommodating mode is low assertiveness and high cooperation. Times when the accommodating mode is appropriate are to show reasonableness, develop performance, create good will, or keep peace. Some people use the accommodating mode when the issue or outcome is of low importance to them.

    The accommodating mode can be problematic when one uses the mode to “keep a tally” or to be a martyr. For example, if you keep a list of the number of times you have accommodated someone and then you expect that person to realize, without your communicating to the person, that she/he should now accommodate you.

    Accommodating Skills

  • Forgetting your desires • Selflessness
  • Ability to yield • Obeying orders
  • Competing
    The competing conflict mode is high assertiveness and low cooperation. Times when the competing mode is appropriate are when quick action needs to be taken, when unpopular decisions need to be made, when vital issues must be handled, or when one is protecting self-interests.

    Competing Skills

  • Arguing or debating • Using rank or influence
  • Asserting your opinions and feelings • Standing your ground
  • Arguing or debating • Using rank or influence
  • Stating your position clearly
  • Compromising
    The compromising mode is moderate assertiveness and moderate cooperation. Some people define compromise as “giving up more than you want,” while others see compromise as both parties winning. Times when the compromising mode is appropriate are when you are dealing with issues of moderate importance, when you have equal power status, or when you have a strong commitment for resolution. Compromising mode can also be used as a temporary solution when there are time constraints.

    Compromising Skills

  • Negotiating • Finding a middle ground
  • Assessing value • Making concessions
  • Collaborating
    The collaborating mode is high assertiveness and high cooperation. Collaboration has been described as “putting an idea on top of an idea on top of an idea…in order to achieve the best solution to a conflict.” The best solution is defined as a creative solution to the conflict that would not have been generated by a single individual. With such a positive outcome for collaboration, some people will profess that the collaboration mode is always the best conflict mode to use.

    However, collaborating takes a great deal of time and energy. Therefore, the collaborating mode should be used when the conflict warrants the time and energy. For example, if your team is establishing initial parameters for how to work effectively together, then using the collaborating mode could be quite useful. On the other hand, if your team is in conflict about where to go to lunch today, the time and energy necessary to collaboratively resolve the conflict is probably not beneficial.

    Times when the collaborative mode is appropriate are when the conflict is important to the people who are constructing an integrative solution, when the issues are too important to compromise, when merging perspectives, when gaining commitment, when improving relationships, or when learning.

    Collaboration Skills

  • Active listening • Non-threatening confrontation
  • Identifying concerns • Analyzing input
  • Factors that affect our conflict modes
    Gender Some of us were socialized to use particular conflict modes because of our gender. For example, some males, because they are male, were taught “always stand up to someone, and, if you have to fight, then fight.” If one was socialized this way he will be more likely to use assertive conflict modes versus using cooperative modes.

      • Self-concept How we think and feel about ourselves affect how we approach conflict. Do we think our thoughts, feelings, and opinions are worth being heard by the person with whom we are in conflict?
      • Expectations Do we believe the other person or our team wants to resolve the conflict?
      • Power What is our power status relationship, (that is, equal, more, or less) with the person with whom we are in conflict?
      • Life experiences As mentioned earlier, we often practice the conflict modes we saw our primary caretaker(s) use unless we have made a conscious choice as adults to change or adapt our conflict styles. Some of us had great role models teach us to manage our conflicts and others of us had less-than-great role models.

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