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Do You Know Your Go-To Conflict Handling Mode?

2021 conflict May 18, 2021

How do deal with differences in opinions, different approaches to decision making, work ethic, rewards, compensation, problem-solving and communication? What happens when your authority, approach or decisions are challenged? How do you respond to poor work performance, insubordination or disrespectful and demeaning behavior?   

Chances are you will encounter some form of conflict in your personal and professional life on a daily basis? 

Knowing your conflict management style could be beneficial to your personal and professional growth and development.

A critical competency for today’s working professionals is to understand that we each have our own way of dealing with conflict. According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), used by human resource (HR) professionals around the world, there are five major styles of conflict management—collaborating, competing, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising.


In the 1970s, researchers Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed a model for conflict resolution. It was called the Thomas-Kilmann model after them. Under this model, the term ‘conflict’ is described as the condition in which people’s concerns can’t be compared with the others. If two or more people or groups care about things that are contradictory to each other, then the outcome is conflict. 

This model describes the two core dimensions while choosing a mode of conduct in a situation of conflict: ‘assertiveness’ and ‘cooperativeness’. Assertiveness is the extent to which you try to solve and resolve for your preferred outcomes. Think of this as the factor on the Y-Axis of a graph. On the other hand, Cooperativeness is the level to which you try to resolve the other party’s problems. This is the factor on the X-Axis of the graph. 


 The Thomas-Kilmann model is the idea that everyone thinks differently and handles conflict differently but these differences can be overcome. This model calls for the following steps:

  • Understand that everyone is different;
  • Know there are different conflict handling modes;
  • Learn your conflict handling modes, and;
  • Learn other conflict styles and how to use them

With these steps, the idea is that we can learn how we handle conflict, how others handle conflict, and how to mesh those ideas to resolve conflict.

In the workplace, this model can help employees and managers alike to learn how to better work with one another. This will help a workplace operate more smoothly and comfortably.

Understanding that everyone is different

The first step seems the easiest but it can also be the hardest to remember.

When coming to a conflict with someone, it’s important to remember that the way you are thinking might not line up with the way someone else is thinking. This doesn’t mean that you’re wrong or the other person is wrong it just means that each of you is different.

So, during these conflicts, think about where the opposing viewpoint is coming from.

Knowing the different conflict handling modes

Building on the idea of everyone thinking differently, everyone has different modes of handling conflict. According to the Thomas-Kilmann model, there are five conflict handling modes:

  • Competing;
  • Accommodating;
  • Avoiding;
  • Collaborating, and;
  • Compromising

Each of these conflict handling modes varies in two ways: the level of assertiveness and the level of cooperativeness.

The level of assertiveness a conflict handling style has represents how interested in your own interests you are. Cooperativeness, on the other hand, represents how well someone with a certain conflict handling style is how concerned with others’ interests.


The TKI assessment helps you understand how different conflict-handling styles affect interpersonal and group dynamics—empowering you to choose the appropriate style for any situation.
  1. Knowing how to approach conflict can help you:
  2. Deal with change
  3. Work better with teams
  4. Develop your leadership capabilities
  5. Improve your overall performance
  6. Increase self-awareness and help you to better manage stress

Overview of the Five Conflict Handling Mode 

1. Competing conflict handling mode

The competing conflict handling mode is the most assertive and least cooperative of the conflict handling modes. If someone uses this handling style, they are more likely to pursue their own interests even at the cost of others’ interests.

Individuals with this conflict handling mode are likely to use whatever they can to win an argument such as particularly good debating skills or even the use of rank. These individuals defend their position in an argument heavily.

2. Accommodating conflict handling mode

On the other end of the spectrum, the accommodating conflict handling mode is very cooperative and not very assertive.

With this conflict handling mode, you are likely to sacrifice your own stance in preference of agreeing with other parties.

This could be a style leaned on out of a feeling of self-sacrifice for the bigger picture. However, it could also be used by individuals who truly dislike conflict and are willing to sacrifice their opinions in an argument to avoid it.

3. Avoiding conflict handling mode

Speaking of hating conflict, if you hate conflict, you might also use the avoiding conflict handling mode. It might also be used if someone doesn’t feel like they have a large stake or strong opinion in the conflict.

The avoiding conflict handling mode is neither assertive or cooperative. Rather than choosing a side, these individuals are likely to neither pursue their own interests or the interests of anyone else involved in the conflict.

4. Collaborating conflict handling mode

Completely opposite to avoiding is collaborating. This conflict handling mode holds both strong assertive and cooperative facets.

If you have a collaborative handling mode, you are likely to consider both sides of a conflict and look at the underlying problems and find an answer that works for everyone.

Collaborative conflict handling modes involve more discussion than argument and finding a solution that addresses all issues.

5. Compromising conflict handling mode

The compromising conflict handling mode is close to collaborating conflict handling mode. While the collaborative handling mode holds a little more assertiveness with the individual taking charge of a mutually beneficial conversation, compromising is equally assertiveness and cooperative.

When looking at a conflict with a compromising approach, you are more likely to look at both sides of the problem and find a middle ground.

One of the biggest differences between this and collaborative conflict handling is how deeply an issue is looked at. While a collaborative mode focuses more on picking an issue apart and finding the source of an issue, a compromising mode tries to find a quick middle ground to a problem by meshing multiple ideas into a single solution.


Be aware of your conflict handling mode learn other conflict styles and how to use them

Now that you know the basics of the Thomas-Kilmann model, you can put it into practice. To start, find out what conflict handling mode you use the most with the TKI assessment.

Then, take the time to look deeper into that conflict style.

Most importantly, take the time to learn about models the people around you use and find out how different conflict models can work together.

 Listen to the episode of the Better U Leadership Podcast

As mentioned in this episode, Click HERE to schedule a 20 minute session via Zoom with Angela to see if you are a good fit to work with her on her Become A Better Leader in 100 Days Program.  

Much Love and Much Respect,



Angela M. Odom is a life and leadership coach, founder of The Better U Project brand, podcast host, proud Army veteran and the author of BRONCO STRONG: A Memoir of the Last Deployed Personnel Services Battalion and a contributing author to the book, "Camouflaged Sisters: Leadership Through The Eyes of Senior Military Women Leaders". 

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