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ATD Blog

Let Conflict Be an Accelerator for Improvement

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Conflict: a situation we all dread. On the contrary, I personally believe that conflict is good. Yes, you read that right! Granted, the term “conflict” means disagreement. But there are two different perspectives to every situation. A broader outlook toward conflict presents opportunities for learning and performance improvement.

Thomas Kilmann had suggested an effective model of conflict management. The model focuses on five distinct styles:

1. competing
2. collaborating
3. compromising
4. avoiding
5. accommodating.

Each style is unique with distinct characteristics. For instance, according to the model, competing and collaborating styles are assertive, while avoiding and accommodating would be considered unassertive. Similarly, avoiding is an uncooperative style, whereas accommodating is cooperative. Let’s dig a little deeper to understand each style.

Competing. According to Thomas Kilmann, competing is not about who wins but about being confident. Competing, therefore, is assertive in that people focus on putting forth opinions with logic and politeness, albeit sternly.


Collaborating. Like competing, collaborating is an assertive style. In general, this strategy is used by people who may not feel as confident about the specific issue and rely on logic and working with the other person to reach a decision and take action. Collaborating requires people to listen patiently, but also ask plenty of questions so they can learn more and make sense of the situation.

Compromising. With regard to conflict management, compromising does not mean the dictionary implication but a management implication. Often, compromising is a natural progression after collaborating. Once you agree to the vision that the other person has, you agree to do it—sometimes with a bit of doubt. However, you trust your instincts and move ahead. This ensures that time—a critical resource—is not wasted on mere disagreement.


Avoiding. This strategy is all about managing resources—costs, time, and energy. People using this strategy feel that they are being prudent and prepared. For instance, they try to keep meetings short in their effort to not waste time on “small” things that may keep them from taking care of more important issues. It is an uncooperative style, but is sometimes prudent to ensure that the larger vision stays the focus of work.

Accommodating. This style is a very cooperative and unassertive way to manage conflict. It’s unassertive because the person clearly values something else more than what is being discussed. Their work is their priority and they do not want to hinder their efforts by getting stuck in conflict. They agree to further discussion and offer their support with the goal of building goodwill and team cohesiveness.

Bottom line: When you are in conflict, you are not head-on with each other but watching the same thing from a different viewpoint. Understanding this element of conflict can help a team succeed. What’s more, understanding the reasons for each conflict style—so that you use the right style at the right time—will help you achieve desired outcomes.

About the Author

Mehul Darooka is a talent development consultant focused on teambuilding, management development, communication skills, and sales and marketing. Contact him via email at [email protected].

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