Effective conflict management has significant organisational benefits for leaders who understand the best approach for each situation.

If not handled effectively, miscommunication and any resulting conflict has the potential to cause deadlock and inaction, with key input suppressed or ignored. However, understanding the positive intentions and contributions of those involved can reduce resentment and make it easier for them to listen to and learn from one another’s insights. This allows for diverse inputs to get the chance to be considered, benefiting the organisation in terms of innovation, creativity and even speed to market for new products or services.   So, if we can’t ignore conflict, we need to find appropriate ways to handle it.

There are some recognised approaches to handling conflict, and ensuring that you have developed your self-awareness and leadership style will help equip you with a better understanding of how you handle conflict management within your team. One way of developing this is through management tools such as the Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument™ (TKI™), which helps to identify your preferred style, and how to adapt to the situations effectively.

When in conflict, behaviour can be described in terms of where it lies along two dimensions – assertiveness (degree to which you try to satisfy your own concerns) and cooperativeness (satisfying other’s concerns). These TKI modes are:

Competing – is assertive and uncooperative, satisfying your own concerns at the other’s expense

Accommodating – is unassertive and cooperative, sacrificing your own concerns for the other person’s

Compromising – is partially assertive and partially cooperative, looking for an acceptable settlement that partially satisfies both parties concerns

Avoiding – is unassertive and uncooperative, sidestepping or postponing the conflict

Collaborating – is assertive and cooperative, problem-solving to find solutions that completely satisfy both parties.

Everyone uses all five conflict modes from time to time, and all can be very effective when used in the right circumstances. Within leadership, we tend to use one or two styles more often, but being able to adapt your effective communication skills to be able to use any of them, and to know when to use them, will positively affect the outcome of conflict, both in terms of relationships and results.

Which style do you think describes your preferred method of handling conflict? Can you see workplace situations where your preferred style or the others may have been more appropriate?

In all conflict situations, we want to avoid personalising it, i.e. focusing on each other rather than the situation, becoming irritated or behaving negatively towards each other or expressing blame. Forward thinking leaders also understand each conflict mode and appreciate the benefits of the diversity of approach from others in any given situation. By keeping discussions focussed on the issue, remaining respectful of others opinions and adapting your style, a lot can be gained from the perspectives, insight, expertise and knowledge of others.

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