Makarios Consulting Blog

Five Ways to Conquer Workplace Conflict (Part 1)

Conflict. As an effective leader, we have to deal with conflict on a daily basis. If we want to resolve conflicts successfully, we must first understand three things:

  1. How people respond to conflict
  2. What the building blocks are in conflict resolution
  3. How to have a conversation to resolve conflict

Each of those skills is critical to conflict resolution, so we’ll focus on one each of the next three weeks. This week, we’re going to discuss the five ways people respond to conflict and how important it is to understand each one. With our clients, we’ve successfully used the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), which is a proven method to assess people’s behavior in conflict situations using five categories:

  1. Competing: Arguments and power plays are the hallmarks of competing individuals. They want power, and seek to achieve their wants and needs first. Their idea of success is ‘winning’ the conflict.
  1. Accommodating: Extremely cooperative and unassertive. Unlike competing individuals, those who accommodate put their needs last even when it’s not in their best interest.
  1. Avoiding: Bury your head in the sand. Beat around the bush. These individuals do everything they can to avoid difficult situations and hope the problems will magically disappear.
  1. Compromising: Quickly and painlessly. That’s how compromisers seek to resolve conflict. They define success as exchanging concessions. For them, it’s all about the middle ground.
  1. Collaborating: Mutually beneficial Individuals who collaborate to solve conflict address both parties’ needs and desires.

Most people assume that collaboration should be used in all situations. Not true. Although people may tend toward a certain mode in every situation, the reality is all modes are appropriate sometimes. Successful conflict resolution depends on our ability to evaluate each situation and respond with the most appropriate method.

Here are examples of conflicts in which each mode is appropriate:

  • When a core value, e.g., safety, is at stake, competing may be the appropriate response. That’s because safety regulations don’t allow for collaborative conflict resolution: they must be followed to the letter.
  • Accommodating may be appropriate if the issue isn’t important to you, but is important to the other party. You may disagree, but it isn’t a deal-breaker.
  • Some situations call for avoiding conflict because the effects of confrontation are worse than letting it slide. For example, when leadership team members have a conflict about a project that one owns and one supports, there are times when the best choice is to avoid the conflict to prevent damage to their working relationship and other team members’ effectiveness.
  • When situations call for quick decisions and time is limited, it is possible that compromising can be the right choice.
  • Collaborating is most appropriate for decisions that have far-reaching impact and require a lasting commitment by the team. For example, when a leadership team is working on its strategic plan, team members may have divergent views about the company’s future direction.  It can be very important for them to wrestle with the tough issues to define a strategy that is best for the company, collaborating on the final result.

Note the difference between compromise and collaboration, which are often confused. With compromise, both parties must give up some of their needs and wants.   The outcome often leaves neither party completely satisfied.

Collaboration, on the other hand, occurs when both parties give up their original positions to find a third and better solution. In this case, both parties are satisfied and have a strong sense of ownership with the “third way” they have chosen together.