Conflict is inevitable. Every time two or more people come together, agendas and needs will differ. How do you deal with conflict? Is there one best way to fix things?
The short answer is, no, there isn't. How you deal with any conflict will always depend on several factors, e.g. how important the issue is to you, how important the relationship is to you, what the surrounding circumstances are, and many of those aspects are impacted by your type preferences.
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman developed and introduced their conflict mode instrument (TKI) to help people become aware of five different "modes", or conflict management approaches. A number of forced choice questions identify how often we rely on the different modes, and the subsequent report provides questions and suggestions to help avoid over- and under-use of any one mode.
Here's an overview of the modes from the TKI website:
Access and Preference
The first point to become aware of is that all of us have access to all five modes - we just may prefer one of them and make it our go-to. Since every mode has its uses, chances are, you'll solve conflicts a good amount of times sticking to only your preferred approach. Even a broken clock shows the right time twice a day, right? If you want to up your effectiveness a notch, let's look at how conflict mode awareness can help:
Let's start with the top-left corner: if we're asserting ourselves, making sure our needs get met, we're dealing with conflict by competing. Competing to be right, competing to have our way, competing to win. The issue, in this case, is more important to us than the relationship with our conflict partner.
When the relationship and cooperation are more important, we may be more prone to move to the lower-right hand corner and accommodate. Maybe the other person's needs are more important to us than our own, maybe we're not that adamant about the issue, maybe we need to have a good relationship with this person.
Compromising would be meeting in the middle. The issues is as important as the relationship, and we want to resolve the conflict and figure out a solution. Sounds good, isn't workable in the long run though. According to Kilman, nobody getting their needs met fully simply isn't a long-term solution, because eventually people will check out. In other words, we all need to win sometime.
When we're low on assertiveness and cooperation, we're avoiding. This has its uses when there's no time to figure out what is needed, when stress is high, or when cards aren't openly put on the table and needs aren't clear.
When assertiveness and cooperation are high, we're collaborating. Again - sounds great, but it's easier said than done, because collaborating only works in a certain set of circumstances. The issue has to be complex enough to be worked at from different angles, and people's needs have to be transparent.
What's your style?
Let's do an exercise - can you think of situations where you tend to avoid dealing with the conflict? Who is that with? What are the circumstances? How do you feel about that relationship and that issue? Have you given up and mentally checked out yet? What would it take for you to have the courage and address the issue that you've been avoiding? What would have to happen for you to dare and speak up for your needs?
Conflict styles and Type preferences
Bringing personality type into the mix, it is easy to assume that people with a Thinking preference (decision-making by objective and logical analysis) are more comfortable asserting themselves than people with a Feeling preference (decision-making by subjective values and empathy), because for people with a T preference, it's often more about the issue, not the relationship. It's business, not personal. We can disagree and yell at one another at a meeting and then go for lunch.
For people with an F preference, accommodating may come easier, as it's a short-term solution to maintain harmony and appease the other. There's a problem if we give up on our own needs, because we're expecting our opponent will reciprocate and try to please us in return at another time. Always choosing to accommodate is a sure way to foster resentment and hidden expectations the other will not be able to meet.
Now that you have an awareness of the five different modes, I invite you to consciously pay attention to your conflict management style. Which mode is your default? Is it always effective? Would you be able to stop competing to build credit in the emotional bank account of your significant other if you give in to those items that aren't high on your priority list? Can you find a way out of the accommodating corner to practice stating your own needs? Especially in romantic relationships, men and women can't read each other's minds, and open communication is essential to clear the air and resolve lingering conflicts. Read more about that in another article, Happily Ever After.
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Image by Robert Dawson, Flickr, Creative Commons License.