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Conflict is unavoidable. It appears at the most inconvenient times and can feel really unsettling, huh? Some of us are more comfortable with conflict than others, but at the end of the day, we will all face conflict in our relationships, in our workplace, and in our homes.

Depending on the situation, we typically operate using one of five conflict-management strategies determined by Dr. Kenneth Thomas and Dr. Ralph Killman, both professors of management at the University of Pittsburgh. The Thomas-Killman Model determines that the five conflict management styles use varying levels of cooperation and assertiveness.

I’ll briefly explain the five styles below and how cooperation and assertiveness play out in each style.

You may identify one style that resonates with you and how you typically operate, but many people use different styles depending on the situation (what’s at stake, who’s involved, how strongly you feel about an issue, how strong the other person feels about an issue, etc.)

Avoiding

Result: I lose, you lose
Avoiding involves withdrawing from the situation or ignoring the conflict all together. When people avoid, they hope the conflict will resolve itself or dissipate on it’s own (which rarely happens, unfortunately). The discomfort of the conflict outweighs the potential reward of coming to a resolution. This style involves low levels of cooperation and low levels of assertiveness.

Accommodating

Result: I lose, you win
Accommodating involves giving in to the demands or wishes of the other person/party. You may use this style when you realize you are wrong about an argument or how you handled a situation. You may also use this style if you simply want to keep the peace in a situation and don’t want an argument to ensue. In the second case, you may find yourself feeling bitter about not getting to share your thoughts/viewpoint. You may also realize that it allows for a temporary solution, but not a long-term fix for a problem that comes up. This style involves high levels of cooperation, but low levels of assertiveness.

Competing

Result: I win, you lose
Competing involves going into a situation thinking one person wins (that person is usually yourself!) and everyone else loses. This style doesn’t allow room to hear different perspectives or seek to understand the other person. This style doesn’t allow for productive conversations or problem-solving because you tend to come in with your mind already made up. This style involves low levels of cooperation, but high levels of assertiveness.

Compromising

Result: I win some, you win some
Compromising involves coming up with an agreement that gives everyone a little bit of what they want. You may have to give up some of what you had hoped for, or be flexible with the outcome you envisioned. It’s the most fair conflict management style, but it doesn’t allow for 100% satisfaction for both parties. This style involves some levels of cooperation and some levels of assertiveness.

Collaborating

Result: I win, you win
Collaborating involves really listening and understanding the other party. It requires great humility to put yourself and your agenda aside for the sake of the other person. Collaboration involves letting all parties share their thoughts and opinions, as well as working to come up with a solution that allows each person to feel satisfied with the outcome/solution. The style involves a great deal of work, but the outcome is worth it. Collaboration will allow for all parties to feel heard, valued, and understood. The style will, by far, be your most successful option 9 times out of 10 in any conflict. This style involves high levels of cooperation and high levels of assertiveness.

The next time you are faced with conflict, take some time to reflect on the situation:

  • Which style did I use?
  • Why did I use that style?
  • Do I tend to use this style in most conflicts?
  • How do I feel about the outcome of the situation?
  • What would I do/say differently next time?

We all are faced with conflict on a daily basis, whether we like it or not. Managing conflict can be challenging and create stress and anxiety. If you want to talk through how you tend to manage conflict in your own life, the therapists at Optimum Joy would love to process with you. Reach out to a therapist today!

Written by therapist Natalie Hu

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