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Need to Manage Conflict at the Workplace? Use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

A major reason for employees leaving their workplaces is conflicts with their bosses.  To succeed in today’s fiercely competitive market, organizations need to invest in developing their leadership, such that they further develop their teams by training them on the desired competencies and create a sense of engagement in them.

A big challenge for leaders is getting their employees to believe in the organizational vision.  No two personalities have the same viewpoints and aspirations, thus conflict is bound to occur between team members while they interact.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), developed by Dr. Ralph H. Kilmann and Dr. Kenneth W. Thomas, is an easy-to-use, online assessment tool to Conflict ManagementHuman Resources (HR) and Organizational Design (OD) consultants utilize the TKI tool as a mechanism to initiate discussions on differing topics and facilitate in mediation by learning how conflict-handling modes affect personal, group, and organizational dynamics.

Each of us has a predominant conflict style that we use in a particular situation.  The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument provides a basis to measure a person’s behavior in conflict situations, where individuals appear to be unable to get along.  The individuals’ behavior in conflict situations encompasses 2 broad dimensions:

  • Assertiveness
  • Cooperativeness

These behavior dimensions define 5 predominant conflict handling styles (or modes) that we use while responding to conflict situations:

  1. Competing
  2. Accommodating
  3. Avoiding
  4. Collaborating
  5. Compromising

A thorough understanding of these styles allows for making a conscious decision on how to respond to others and assists in easing conflict and stress.

Let’s now discuss 3 of these conflict handling styles.


Competing is a power-oriented mode in which individuals use power to win their position, stand up for their rights, and defend a position which they believe is correct.  Competing is assertive and uncooperative where a person pursues his own concerns at the other individual’s expense.

Individuals using a competitive style consistently are considered aggressive, autocratic, confrontational, and intimidating.  Competitors try to gain power and force change at the other person’s expense.  This style is appropriate to execute a quick, unpopular decision, or to let others know how important an issue is to you.  The major disadvantage of this style is low value for relationships, which can be damaged beyond repair.


Unlike competing, accommodating is unassertive and cooperative.  Individuals using this conflict management style neglect or even sacrifice their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person.  They may obey other person’s order even if they disagree to it, or yield to other’s viewpoint.  People who accommodate others forget their own personal needs to please others and to maintain harmony.  They have high importance for preserving their relationships.  The accommodator style is useful when a person is wrong but you want to minimize losses and preserve relationships.

This habit cannot permanently fix an issue and may induce a feeling of anger or pleasure in the other person.  Prolonged use of the accommodator style changes the behavior to competitive, brings down creativity in conflict situations, and enhances power imbalances.


The individuals with an avoiding style of conflict management neither pursue their own concerns nor those of the others.  The avoiding style is neither assertive nor cooperative.  These people prefer to avoid conflict rather than deal with it, diplomatically bypass or postpone an issue, or simply withdraw from a threatening situation.

Avoiders are considered negligent towards their own or others’ problems.  They avoid a problem expecting that it will pass, resolve on its own, or anticipate other people to take care of it.  Avoidance is acceptable only in situations where you need time to think of the response, there is little chance of satisfying your needs, or in case confrontation can hurt a relationship.  Avoiding a conflict and not dealing with it allows the conflict to flare up and triggers negative sentiments and animosities.

Interested in learning more about the 5 predominant conflict handling styles and how to conduct the TKI Assessment?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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