Conflict Management: Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument

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Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument is the world’s most popular conflict-management tool.

It designates five conflict-handling styles along two dimensions: assertiveness and cooperativeness.

The instrument recognises that although conflict resolution is the main aim of conflict management, this isn’t always achievable. On such occasions, competing or avoiding might be preferable. Whatever style is adopted, the aim is to optimise the positive outcomes for all parties.
Here, we take a look at the main characteristics of each of the model’s conflict management styles.


Assertive but not cooperative
• Usually involves pushing one viewpoint over another
• It can be useful as a last resort to resolve a long-lasting conflict
• Is appropriate to use when you need to resist aggression, or when the need for rapid resolution justifies it
• It may impact negatively on the relationship between involved parties in the long run
• If the opponent reacts in the same way, it can prolong conflict


• Cooperative and assertive
• Involves working together to find a win-win solution
• Is preferable when a good relationship between parties is important going forward
• Requires trust and a spirit of compromise to exist between parties, but can reinforce these feelings if successful
• Creates a good basis for future collaboration and good team working


• Somewhere in the middle-ground in terms of cooperation and assertiveness
• Can often be a good temporary approach towards a settlement, especially for complex or highly emotive issues
• Leaves the door open for all parties to continue to work together to find a win-win solution
• Depending on the willingness of the involved parties towards compromise, moderation might be required to ensure compromise agreements are met
• Could lead to a lose-lose situation where none of the parties involved are satisfied


• Uncooperative and unassertive
• Involves withdrawing from the conflict entirely – either permanently or temporarily
• Expedient when the issue is of low priority or when it is simply not the right time or place to deal with the conflict
• Offers an opportunity to buy more time to deal with the issue
• May undermine your position in the long term – or negatively affect your credibility with other parties, especially if they were counting on your support or anticipating action


• Unassertive but cooperative
• Involves prioritising the concerns of the other party before your own
• Useful when you accept the validity of their position or that the issue is simply not as important to you as it is to the other party
• Can provide an opportunity to cede control over one point of conflict in order to improve your position in another
• It might be hard to switch out of accommodating style to other more assertive styles, especially if other parties attempt to take advantage of your tendency towards accommodating

Providing opportunities for staff to understand and use the model gives individuals the tools they need to reduce conflict, lower stress, build more cohesive teams and eliminate barriers to effective performance.