Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Since 1974 the Thomas – Kilmann Conflict Resolution Model has helped many people understand the various strategies that can be used to resolve conflict, whether there are parties to a conflict themselves or observers trying to resolve a conflict among others.

Assertiveness and cooperation

Developed by management professors Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, the model of conflict management focuses on the interaction of two critical behaviors: assertiveness and cooperation, and these behaviors are in fact the cornerstone of understanding conflict resolution.

Assertiveness can be described as the strength of a person’s desire to satisfy her own concerns and needs in pursuing a desired outcome. So a person might be very assertive and even aggressive in pursuing a desired outcome that she wants or she might be very unassertive or laid-back .

Cooperation on the other hand is a person’s willingness to satisfy the concerns and needs of the other people involved in the conflict who are pursuing their own desired outcome.  So on any given conflict situation a person might be very cooperative or outright uncooperative in the engagement.

Different conflict management styles

Some clarifications on the method are necessary:

  1. there is no one absolute best style and that the situation you find yourself in can and should play a major role in your strategy for conflict resolution;
  2. you will probably want to take into account the identity of the parties in a conflict when deciding which approach you choose for resolving it;
  3. you might handle conflict involving a friend very differently than you would handle conflict involving your boss or coworker and
  4. most of us have a dominant or preferred style that we use when approaching conflict.

That preference can limit our effectiveness if were unwilling to learn how to use other styles that might be appropriate for a given situation.

The Thomas – Kilmann conflict resolution model

The Thomas – Kilmann Conflict Resolution Model provides us with a better understanding of the interaction of assertiveness and cooperation in the various possible approaches to conflict resolution.

he model identifies five basic resolution styles:

  • competition;
  • accommodation;
  • avoidance;
  • compromise and
  • collaboration.


The competition or forcing approach is high on assertiveness and low on being cooperative. With this strategy a person in a conflict pursues his or her own concerns in a fairly aggressive fashion and often does so at the expense of the other people involved in the conflict.

This is a power oriented strategy where becomes all about one party wanting to win and satisfying his or her needs without considering the position of others involved in the conflict. Such a person is willing to use rank, position power, status, coercive power and the power of persuasion to win the day. This approach is also frequently described as a win lose approach to the conflict.


In contrast, accommodation is a style where a person is unassertive and willing to be highly cooperative. This strategy is the polar opposite of the competition strategy. In an accommodation strategy individuals give lower priority to their own needs and concerns to satisfy the needs and concerns of the other party.

An accommodating strategy means giving in to another person’s position, obeying another person’s order even when we would rather not do so or surrendering your position to another point of view, some people call this the rolling over strategy. People using this approach may be doing so because they are hopeful that the problem or conflict will go away in time.

Whether cooperation can be viewed as a self-sacrifice in the process an accommodator her will try to reduce tension and stress by giving in or obliging others at his or her own expense, but individuals using the style has still unmet needs that frequently bubble up at a later point in time.

So here’s the warning: if you’re in a commentator you’re frequently surrendering your voice and letting other people have their way in the short run, but know that over time with unmet needs and ideas that are not being listened to you’ll it will have a degrading effect on your performance your, job satisfaction, your attitude among other things which is never a good thing.


An avoidance strategy means that a person is both unassertive and uncooperative when it comes to attempting to resolve a conflict. In an avoidance strategy a person frequently sticks his or her head into the sand, they delay involvement, they sidestep an issue or they simply withdraw altogether from the discussion or the circumstances.

The avoidance approach suggests that a person shuns conflict at all costs and is willing to ignore or disengage from an issue regardless of its importance and when a number of people in any work group or team take this approach lethargy, mediocrity complacency and poor performance are not far behind.

The warning attached to this avoidance strategy goes back to the simple fact that most problems, conflicts and crises do not go away without action. When people just walk away from these situations a whole different set of conflicts and problems will follow.


A compromising strategy takes a middle or moderate position on both the issues of assertiveness and cooperativeness. When people take a compromising strategy in dealing with conflict their behavior falls between an accommodating and competing approach.

This position is frequently described as a give-and-take approach to resolving the conflict. When people take a compromising approach it means that they’re willing to take steps to find a mutually acceptable solution in an expedient fashion that ensures that some of the other party’s needs are being met.

At the same time they’re willing to take action to assure some of their own needs are being met as well. This strategy tries to address the root cause of the problem but it does not fully explore the possibility of finding a win-win solution for both parties.

In certain conflict situations the strategy might just mean seeking a middle-of-the-road position or splitting the difference on a particular issue which may provide an acceptable solution, but the warning here especially in the case of a substantive business conflict is that a compromise solution to a problem might not be a real solution at all. It just may put off all the underlying conflict for another day.


The collaboration strategy makes a tremendous amount of sense in most business scenarios. Collaborators work very hard to be both assertive and representing their own needs and cooperative in being sensitive and understanding to the needs of others.

This strategy takes a more serious problem solving approach and try to resolve a conflict and find a win-win solution. When people are collaborating to resolve a conflict they explore the actual disagreement to solicit insight from each other.

They are willing to put themselves in each other’s position to achieve better understanding in this means that both parties are actively engaged in work together to clearly define the problem and generate effective and mutually acceptable alternatives to solve it.

They work together to find meaningful and creative solutions. Clearly, if you’re trying to resolve a conflict between others this is your ideal scenario, a collaboration strategy is really a team-based problem-solving effort that can produce a superior outcome when both parties are cooperative, assertive and willing to work together.

The benefits of a conflict resolution model

The real benefit of the Thomas – Kilmann conflict resolution model is that you can use its five approaches to analyze any workplace conflict and then decide how to best respond to it.

The next time a workplace conflict occurs start by determining whether it’s substantive or emotional and at what level the conflict is taking place in her group intra-group or interpersonal. Then determine the level of cooperativeness and assertiveness of the parties involved. You can use the above five strategies to determine how you will approach this conflict.

You can also use the model proactively to assess your own work environment when you look at all of your working relationships ask yourself how you approach disagreements and conflict when it pops up. Always remember that conflict can be managed and it’s always better to address sooner rather than later.

By successdotinc

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