Negotiator Conflict Resolution Styles
The Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Inventory

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NOTE: Before you read further, if you haven't already done so, click here to take the Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Inventory. You can download for free.

This instrument is designed to measure a person's behavior in conflict situations. "Conflict situations" are those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, we can describe an individual's behavior along two basic dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his or her own concerns; and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person's concerns.

These two basic dimensions of behavior define five different modes for responding to conflict situations:

  1. Competing is assertive and uncooperative -- an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person's expense. This is a power-oriented mode in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position -- your ability to argue, your rank, or economic sanctions. Competing means "standing up for your rights," defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

  2. Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative -- the complete opposite of competing. When , the individual neglects his own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person; there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode. might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person's order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another's point of view.

  3. Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative -- the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual. Thus he does not deal with the conflict. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.

  4. Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative -- the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating involves an attempt to work with others to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the two individuals. Collaborating between two persons might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other's insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.

  5. Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls intermediate between competing and collaborating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than . Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding, but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

Each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes: none of us can be characterized as having a single rigid style of dealing with conflict. However, any given individual uses some modes better than others and therefore, tends to rely upon those modes more heavily than others, whether because of temperament or practice.

The conflict behaviors which an individual uses are therefore a result of both his personal predispositions and the requirements of the situation in which he finds himself. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is designed to assess this mix of conflict-handling modes.


Another way of looking at it is the graph below.

Thank you Ed for the chart.

Another way of expressing the Assertiveness line is as your need to satisfy your own needs in a negotiation. Another way of expressing the Cooperative line is your need to satisfy the other side's needs. Thus,

Competing - need to satisfy own needs high, need to satisfy other's needs low;

Accommodating - need to satisfy own needs low, need to satisfy other's needs high;

Avoiding - need to satisfy own needs low, need to satisfy other's needs low;

Compromising - need to satisfy own needs about 50%, need to satisfy other's needs about 50%. This is the split the difference approach.

Collaborating - need to satisfy own needs high, need to satisfy other's needs high.

Each of these is the strategy of choice for certain situations.

Competing makes sense when:

  1. Quick, decisive action is vital-e.g., emergencies.

  2. On important issues where unpopular courses of action need implementing-e.g., cost cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline.

  3. On issues vital to group welfare when you know you're right.

  4. To protect yourself against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.

Accommodating makes sense when:

  1. The issue is much more important to the other person than to you, and as a goodwill gesture to help maintain a cooperative relationship;

  2. To build up social credits for later issues which are important to you;

  3. Continued competition would only damage your cause-when you are outmatched and losing.

  4. Preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important. This is courting behavior.
  5. You realize that you are wrong-to allow a better position to be heard, to learn from others, and to show that you are reasonable.

Avoiding makes sense when:

  1. An issue is trivial, of only passing importance, or when other more important issues are pressing.

  2. You perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns-e.g., when you have low power or you are frustrated by something which would be very difficult to change (national policies, someone's personality structure, etc.)

  3. The potential damage of confronting a conflict outweighs the benefits of its resolution.

  4. Gathering more information outweighs the advantages of an immediate decision.

  5. To let people cool down-to reduce tensions to a productive level and to regain perspective and composure.

  6. Others are resolving the conflict more effectively.

  7. The issue seems tangential or symptomatic of another more basic issue.

Compromising makes sense when:

  1. Goals are moderately important, but not worth the effort or potential disruption of more assertive modes.

  2. Each side has equal power and both are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals-are in labor-management bargaining.

  3. To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.

  4. To arrive an expedient solution under time pressure.

  5. As a backup mode when collaboration or competition fails to be successful.

Collaborating makes sense when:

  1. To find an integrative solution.

  2. Your objective is to learn-e.g., test your own assumptions, understand the views of others.

  3. To merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem.

  4. To gain commitment by incorporating other's concerns into a consensual decision.

  5. To work through hard feelings which have been interfering with an interpersonal relationship.

Your negotiation/conflict resolution behavior, therefore, is the result of both your personal predispositions and the requirements of the situation in which you find yourself. -The Conflict Mode Instrument is designed to give you some insight into how you handle the various conflict resolution modes.

For more information about negotiation, click on any of the links below.

To learn more about other conflict resolution topics, click on any of the links below.

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