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Mediators spend a lot of time thinking about conflict management styles. They want to be able to quickly assess how parties in a mediation deal with conflict.
One useful model for conflict management styles is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory (TKI). The TKI describes five ways that people can deal with conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating.
These methods of handling conflict differ in whether you look more to your own needs or to the needs of others. Competing and collaborating are more assertive methods of conflict management that focus on your needs and desired outcomes; avoiding and accommodating are less assertive. Collaborating and accommodating are more cooperative methods of resolving the problem that focus on the needs of others; competing and avoiding are less cooperative. Compromising fits in the middle.
Ralph Kilmann and Kenneth Thomas developed the TKI in the 1970s. The TKI is based on dimensions similar to work by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in “The Managerial Grid” (1964). Blake and Mouton described management styles along the dimensions of “concern for people” and “concern for task.”
The TKI instrument is available through CPP, Inc. For a short, free conflict management model you can take to assess yourself that is similar to the TKI, see the Peace & Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church USA.
Here are some points to keep in mind when thinking about which style describes best how you deal with conflict:
- We all have biases in favor of one or two of the styles. That is, we prefer to handle conflict in certain ways. The TKI instrument can help you identify your preferred styles.
- Our preferred styles can vary based on the situation. Many people deal with conflict differently when they are at work and when they are with their families, or when they are interacting with bosses and subordinates. You might want to take the TKI a couple of times, thinking of yourself in different situations each time.
- No one style of managing conflict is right in all situations, and all styles can be appropriate in some situations. For example, if your spouse says something that annoys you, you might choose to ignore it (avoiding conflict). However, Penn State got into serious trouble when its leaders avoided conflict by confronting Jerry Sandusky.
As a mediator, it is important to know how you respond to conflict. Many mediators have taken the TKI, the Myers-Briggs Personality Type test, and similar personality assessments. These tools help mediators understand their preferences in dealing with others and how they can adapt their behavior comfortably to work with people who have other preferred styles.
It is also important for the mediator to quickly assess how each person in the mediation is dealing with the conflict. Is he or she competitive? Accommodating? Avoiding the issues? If you as the mediator want a lasting resolution, you will have to find ways to pull the avoiders into the negotiation and to tame the competitors.
For successful conflict resolution, you need all parties to buy into the solution. Where they have not all contributed to the resolution, they are less likely to buy in. It is the mediator’s responsibility to facilitate the parties in reaching a solution to their conflict. You can best facilitate a good result by understanding yourself and others.
How do you prefer to deal with conflict? When has your preferred style worked well for you, and when has it not?