conflict resolution

The Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI) is a helpful conflict-mode assessment that helps you understand your natural response to conflict.

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Kenneth Thomas, co-creator of the TKI defines conflict as, “The condition in which people’s concerns – the things they care about – appear to be incompatible.”

The TKI suggests that there are two basic dimensions of conflict behavior: assertiveness and cooperativeness.

The way we personally deal with conflict is determined by how much personal assertiveness or cooperativeness feel in any given conflict situation.

Assertiveness is the degree to which I will go to seek my own concerns. How hard I will fight for my own beliefs or position. Cooperativeness is the degree to which I will go to seek another’s concerns. How far I will bend or forfeit my own position to satisfy another’s.

If I place a high value on my beliefs, I’ll typically be more assertive. If I place a high value on a relationship, I’ll typically be more cooperative.


We all have a natural response to conflict – a typical default.

4 Steps to Managing Conflict

Conflict, like everything else, can be managed. And it must be if we hope to build strong workplace relationships.


Four tips for managing conflict (YouTube_3:12 min)

Everyone encounters conflict in the workplace. If we want to increase our emotional intelligence we must learn to address it in healthy ways.

Step 1 – ID the cause

Often, what we argue about in relationships is only a surface issue – a small indicator of a larger underlying issue beneath the surface.

You must go below the line to discover what the real issue is.

It may be a cognitive issue – a head issue – an issue of logic. (I don’t like your idea. I think my idea is better.)


Sometimes a cognitive issue is a simple lack of information and you need to explain your position more fully. Or maybe there’s an underlying goal driving your passion level on the issue that hasn’t been considered.

Conflict can also stem from an affective issue – a heart issue – an issue of ego, personality, or deeply held values. (I don’t like the way you present your ideas…as if you know everything and I know nothing. Or…your suggestion feels insincere to me.)

Two questions that help you go below the line are: “What’s in it for you/me? Why do you/I want it?”

Taking the time to discover the why behind your issues is worth it and safeguards against finding yourself right back in the same situation over again.

Step 2 – Issue or relationship?

Next, ask yourself which is more important in this situation, winning on the issue, or preserving the relationship?


Step 3 – Consider the externals

Externals include:

  • Timing (Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. Other times you’re better served to let tempers cool before pressing your point.)

  • Personalities (Is the person you’re arguing with a natural competer? Are you fighting a losing battle? Or maybe they’re a natural avoider, making it hard to get to the real issue because they won’t discuss it with you.)

  • Safety (Is the person you’re arguing with getting unnecessarily heated and upset? Do they have a past history of overreacting? Are you alone? Should you have a 3rd party mediator present?)

  • Setting (Public arguments are embarrassing for those participating and those witnessing. Praise in public, scold or argue in private, as a general rule, unless 3rd party mediation is helpful.)

  • Appropriateness (Sometimes we get angry and jump to false conclusions and if we had taken the time to learn the whole story we would have chosen a more appropriate response.)


Step 4 – Select best response

Of the five ways you might respond to conflict – compete, compromise, collaborate, avoid, or accommodate – select the most appropriate for the situation at hand.

Compete when the issue is of high importance. If someone threatened the safety of one of my family members, I would compete. Wouldn’t you? If I’m participating in a contest, I’m going to compete to try to be the winner.

Compromise is healthy if both parties are satisfied with the solution. But by it’s definition compromise means both parties have to give something up. So compromise can feel like a “lose-lose” rather than a “win-win.”


Avoid when safety is an issue or timing or setting feel wrong.

Accommodate when the relationship is of high importance. But don’t be so habitually accommodating that resentment breeds. If you gain a reputation as the one who will always give, you’ll lose others’ and your own self-respect.

Collaborate when you have time for it. It’s the healthiest approach to conflict – taking the time to understand someone else’s position, taking the time to explain your own, then working together on the best solution.

Collaboration is also the most time-consuming approach and that’s not always feasible.

Each of these five responses has merit and each has drawbacks, depending on the external factors.

The better you understand your natural response to conflict, and the better you understand others’ responses, the better you can manage and choose the best approach as you seek to resolve conflict situations you encounter.


Final Thoughts on Conflict

Sometimes we exert a lot of effort seeking to avoid conflict, but conflict has some merits.

Conflict is a great maturing process.

Justice, truth, and mercy rise from conflict. It helps us clarify our values and understand ourselves more fully.


Conflict allows us to struggle and grow.

Like the Chinese pictogram for crisis, conflict can be a period of danger and testing, but also a time of opportunity.


This is not to say that danger or crisis situations are good things because they can lead to opportunity. That would be insensitive. But opportunity…and good…can be found even in the worst of times – sometimes it is felt most profoundly in the worst of times.

Conflict must be addressed for peace to emerge.

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” Most every religion calls for its faith-followers to be peacemakers. Without conflict there is no reconciliation. Reconciliation is the sweet “other side” of conflict. By contrast, conflict, if left unaddressed, festers like a wound. Early intervention is typically best.

Additional people skills Content

Contribution & Leadership

Emotional Intelligence



  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Instagram Icon

Contact me at the following:

The Seymour Agency: Julie Gwinn, agent

Privacy Policy


© 2018 by Leanne W. Smith created with

  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon