Are you a shark or a teddy bear? Do you have a win/win mentality?

When we know we must have a difficult conversation we know we may be facing conflict. But how do you feel about that? Are you the sort that says ‘bring it on’ or do you just want to run away from it?

The Chartered Institute of Management (CMI) found that 61% of managers surveyed said they would like to learn how to manage workplace conversations with more confidence. According to the survey managers dreaded difficult conversations at work more than having conversations about sex, break-ups or money.

Thomas-Kilmann identified 5 conflict management styles in their Conflict Mode Instrument or TKI that we can use when we may be facing conflict, and we may often prefer one of them:

Thomas-Kilmann explain the different styles as follows:

Competing is assertive and uncooperative—an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person’s expense. Standing up for your rights, defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of competing. Accommodating 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.

Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative—the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. 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.

Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

All 5 styles have the same aim – to resolve the conflict but with varying degrees of assertiveness and cooperativeness. However, each conflict is different and requires a different approach to manage it. For example, if you know you are wrong or feel that the other person is more concerned about the issue, then an accommodating style could help. If the relationship is of particular importance, then a collaborating style might be useful.

Rather than us sticking to one, the merit of the TKI comes when we adapt our style depending on the situation. There is great power in that.

Next time you are about to have a difficult conversation that could lead to conflict, take a few minutes to consider how you will resolve it and what style you will use:

  • How importance is the relationship?
  • How important is the issue to you?
  • Does it affect your personal beliefs and values?
  • Is there a middle ground?
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