How do you respond to conflict? Are you quick to anger? Quick to give in? Do you avoid the situation altogether? Do you try to meet someone halfway, giving up a little in the hopes that your gain will be worth the sacrifice?
Everyone responds to conflict differently, and our responses can often be merely reactionary instincts stemming from our personalities and experience thus far. As leaders, it is important to understand how we should handle conflict per the given situation. In order to do so, we must first understand the ways in which people handle conflict.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) categorizes people into five different modes of handling conflict.
- Competing. Individuals who prefer competing in conflict situations are looking for and using power. They seek to achieve their wants and needs first. Arguments and power plays are common and success is defined as “winning” the conflict.
- Accommodating. Accommodating individuals are at the other end of the spectrum from persons who tend to compete. They are cooperative and tend to be unassertive. They will give ground on what they need and want, even when it’s not beneficial to do so.
- Avoiding. People who avoid conflict will simply refuse to address the issues at hand. They will withdraw from “hot” situations, procrastinate on different issues, and will beat around the bush whenever possible, hoping the problem will go away.
- Compromising. Compromisers search for expediency—they want to resolve the situation quickly and relatively painlessly by seeking an acceptable middle ground. Success is defined as exchanging concessions.
- Collaborating. Collaboration involves a willingness to find a mutually beneficial solution that addresses both parties’ needs. Collaboration involves intentional effort and desire to understand the other position thoroughly.
When looking at these five modes of handling conflicts, many people would assume that collaboration should be used in all situations. But that’s not necessarily the case. While each individual may tend to want to use a certain mode at all times, the fact is that all modes are appropriate some of the time. Successful conflict resolution depends on our ability to do two things: 1) rise above our natural tendency to use one method for handling all conflict, and 2) choose instead to evaluate each situation and respond to it by using the most appropriate method.
As leaders, we must reach beyond our first instinct and step outside our comfort zone to put the needs of others and the situation first. We must calmly decide how to handle each individual conflict in a way that will create the results needed. Though it can be tough to change our reaction, it will be worth it when the end result is constructive rather than destructive. We may not be able to control the situation or conflict, but we can control how we react to it, and that can make all the difference.
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