Styles of Conflict Management

1. Collaborating (win-win problem solving approach)

Description: Assert your views while also inviting other views. Welcome differences; identify all main concerns; generate options; search for solution which meets as many concerns as possible; search for mutual agreement.

People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when a you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

Perspective on Conflict: Conflict is natural, neutral. So affirm differences, prize each person’s uniqueness. Recognize tensions in relationships and contrasts in viewpoint. Work through conflicts of closeness.

Collaborating IS good when:

  • you have the time and want to work something out that satisfies all sides.
  • you care about the other person(s) and also feel strongly about the issue.
  • you want to get thoughts and feelings out on the table and deal with them, so they don’t cause problems later.

Collaborating is NOT good when:

  • you don’t care that much about the issue.
  • you need to do something quickly. (“Fire! Everybody out!”)

2. Compromising (we meet half way, lets split the difference)

Description: Urge moderation; bargain; split the difference; find a little something for everyone; meet them halfway.

People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser him- or herself also expects to relinquish something. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.

Perspective on Conflict: Conflict is mutual difference best resolved by cooperation and compromise. If each comes halfway, progress can be made by the democratic process.

Compromising IS good when:

  • you need a quick solution and can both give up something.
  • you both want exactly the same thing and it can be divided up or shared.
  • you are willing to let chance decide it (flip a coin).
  • you have tried to satisfy each one completely and it isn’t possible (or would take too long).

Compromising is NOT good when:

  • you might work a little longer and find a solution that pleases each one better.
  • “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”


3. Accommodating (giving in, have it your way)

Description: Accept the other’s view; let the other’s view prevail; give in; support; acknowledge error; decide it’s no big deal or it doesn’t matter.

This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. However people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

Perspective on Conflict: Conflict is usually disastrous, so yield. Sacrifice your own interests, ignore the issues, put relationships first, keep peace at any price.

Accommodating IS good when:

  • you are, or were, wrong about something.
  • you care more about the other person than you do about the issue.

Accommodating is NOT good when:

  • It happens a lot and you wish you could speak up more often.


4. Avoiding (I’d rather not deal with it now, I leave)

Description: Delay or avoid response; withdraw; be inaccessible; divert attention.

People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.

Perspective on Conflict: Conflict is hopeless; avoid it. Overlook differences, accept disagreement or get out.

Avoiding IS good when:

  • you don’t care that much about the issue.
  • you (or someone else) are very angry and need time to cool off before discussing the issue.
  • you are in a dangerous situation and don’t need to be there.

Avoiding is NOT good when:

  • you rarely want to deal with the conflicts in your life.
  • you care about an issue but are afraid to speak up.
  • you keep being bothered by a disagreement with someone you care about.


5. Forcing (I take charge, might makes right)

Description: Control the outcome; discourage disagreement; insist on my view prevailing.
Perspective on Conflict: Conflict is obvious; some people are right and some people are wrong. The central issue is who is right. Pressure and coercion are necessary.

Forcing IS good when:

  • you need to do something quickly.
  • your conscience tells you to do or not do something that displeases others.
  • you know you are right and it is important to you that the others recognize that.

Forcing is NOT good when:

  • you use it often with people you care about or will need to spend time with in the future.
  • you want people to feel they can discuss and disagree with you openly


The Thomas Killman Conflict styles questionairre

This is a really useful tool to take a look at your own approach to conflict. The questionairre is:

  • designed to measure a person’s behaviour in conflict situations in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible
  • An individual’s behaviour is described along two dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns
  • It uses the principles of 5 different methods described above of dealing with conflict, where each approach has its strengths and weaknesses