Posted on 05 December 2010.
Based on the work of Thomas and Kilmann (1974) who identified
five conflict management styles, studies show we each have a conflict
management style that we prefer to use while having a blend of all five. It is
the knowing of which one to operate in which that determines the outcome
of the conflict, whether constructive or destructive. This preferred conflict
management style is influenced by your personality, family background,
and personal development.
Your conflict management style is a combination of two variables namely:
- The measure you fight for your needs being met
- The measure you take into consideration to see other’s needs being met
Five combinations of these two variables determine five conflict management
This style is all about winning and usually by any means necessary; there
is no regard for the relationship, and it’s all about achieving the goal and
getting the result they need. This can be seen as ‘put-downs’, criticisms,
browbeating, or violence. This style is best used,
- When all options have been exhausted and there is no loss on your part.
- When you have a time constraint and action is required immediately, which is in your sphere of control however unpopular the choice.
- When after much analysis, if a decision is still to be made, may require assertive lead.
This style has more of an emphasis on preserving the relationship and not
wanting to rock the boat. In so much that their own needs are neglected,
you seek an agreement at any cost just to keep everybody happy or just to
have the situation go away. This style works best,
- When you don’t have a vested interest into the direction of an outcome.
- When the amount of bargaining power is small or winning seems an unrealistic projection.
- When you want to maintain an environment of peace and harmony; you don’t want to rock the boat, so to speak.
- When right and wrong are not an issue for you but rather the preserving of the relationship.
This style pretends that conflict doesn’t exist; there is low emphasis on
meeting their own goals or in preserving the relationship. Oftentimes they
hold the belief that things will work itself out if it’s left alone.
Times when this style is best used is,
- When tensions are too high and a timeout is required in order to allow emotions to settle to enable rational thought processes.
- When you undoubtedly know the unlikelihood of winning the conflict.
- When you feel others can better handle the conflict than you are
- able to.
- When timing is wrong and to engage in a conflict situation while not being in the best frame of mind to recognise the issues involved.
This style is about trying as best you can to meet halfway. The aim is to try
and give up something you want in a bid to gain something else that does not pose as much objection by the other party and vice versa. It is about
the willingness to share or give up positions held and still feels that all is
Times when this style is best used is,
- When you can settle for a temporary solution.
- When you want to reach an agreement when factors such as time are against you.
- When using the collaborative approach and there being no resolution •at the end.
- A compromise is best used when it saves a relationship rather than negotiating only to gain nothing at all.
Collaborative (Cooperative) Style
This style yields the greatest results and bears with it the greater benefits.
This style places a high value on both relationship preservation and personal
goals being met. The difference with this style is while it is time consuming
and requires much more skill, it seeks to understand the position of the
other party and offers suggestions in a cooperative way, in a full and open
This style is best used,
- Wwhen you want to flush out deeper needs which go beyond the initial wants presented in the dispute or in the positions held
- When you have an interdependent relationship
- When there is surplus time to deal with the problem
- When the issues at hand are equally important for both parties and individuals.
- When there is a genuine willingness to invest resources in order to find a mutually agreeable outcome
By understanding your preferred conflict style and that of another, you are
better positioned to make strategic decisions when dealing with conflict
that will enhance the relationship and not break it down. When you do
not consider other styles and are locked into your own preferences, you risk
gridlock and polarisation between conflicting parties. This is because you
fail to adopt styles that work in favour of the combined goals in light of an
awareness of repeat patterns of conflicting interaction.
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