As a process manager in the 1990s, I had the responsibility of managing a team of employees to ensure that we met our production goals. However, I encountered a problem when one of my team members seemed to be working against me rather than with me. Despite my efforts to collaborate with this individual, I wasn’t making any progress in getting them to work with me.

That’s when I turned to Thomas-Kilman’s work on conflict resolution. I realised that my approach of collaboration, whilst appropriate in most situations, was not working in this case. I decided to switch to a competing style and put my foot down to get things done. To my surprise, the results were amazing.

The person who was previously resistant to working with me suddenly became more cooperative and productive. I was able to get them on board with the project, and we were able to work together to achieve our goals.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of adapting my conflict resolution style to the situation. Sometimes, collaboration is the best approach, but in other situations, a more assertive style may be necessary to achieve results.

Let’s take a closer look at the five styles of responding to conflict:

  1. Competing – This style can be effective when quick decisions are needed or when there is a clear right or wrong answer. However, it can also be detrimental to relationships, as it can create a win-lose situation where one person’s needs are prioritised over the other’s.
  2. Collaborating – This style is ideal when the conflict involves multiple perspectives and when a mutually beneficial solution is needed. Collaboration requires active listening, open communication, and a willingness to compromise.
  3. Compromising – This style involves finding a solution that meets both parties’ needs by giving up some goals or preferences. Compromise can be effective when time is limited or when the issue is not a high priority, but it can also lead to a suboptimal outcome if both parties are not satisfied with the compromise.
  4. Avoiding – This style involves avoiding the conflict altogether, either by ignoring it or by withdrawing from the situation. Avoidance can be effective when the conflict is minor or when emotions are running high, but it can also lead to unresolved issues that may resurface later.
  5. Accommodating – This style involves prioritising the other person’s needs and interests over one’s own. Accommodation can be effective when preserving the relationship is more important than winning the conflict, but it can also lead to resentment if one person consistently sacrifices their own needs.

The key takeaway from Kilman’s work is that no one style is inherently better than the others. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the most effective approach depends on the situation and the individuals involved. By choosing the most appropriate style for a given situation and being willing to adapt when necessary, we can more effectively manage conflicts and maintain healthy relationships.

It’s important to note that switching styles should be done carefully and thoughtfully. In my case, I realised that my initial approach was not working and that a different approach was necessary. I made the switch intentionally, with the goal of achieving a positive outcome for everyone involved.

By understanding the different conflict resolution styles and being willing to adapt when necessary, we can more effectively manage conflicts and maintain healthy relationships. And sometimes, a switch in styles can lead to amazing transformations in our relationships and outcomes. However, it is important to recognise when each style is appropriate and when it is not, and to use them with care to achieve positive outcomes.