The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI test) and Interpersonal Conflict

In Personality Type, Team Culture, TKI by Jonathan Bollag, Owner and Founder

According to the text Introduction To Conflict Management, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI test) Profile and Interpretive Report is a self-report questionnaire designed to measure your tendencies in dealing with interpersonal conflict (Thomas, K. 2002). The TKI test measures five conflict-handling styles in the form of a percentage as compared to a sample of 8,000 working adults who have been administered this assessment.

The five conflict handling styles are:

  1. Competing
  2. Collaborating
  3. Compromising
  4. Avoiding
  5. Accommodating

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument relates these five conflict styles with two basic dimensions in which conflict-handling modes are located. These two dimensions are Assertiveness (the degree to which you try to satisfy your own needs during conflict) and Cooperativeness (how much you try to satisfy the other person’s concerns during conflict). These two dimensions are not opposites of each other, but are separate and independent measurements. The following are descriptions of how these two dimensions relate to the five conflict handling modes:

  • Competing is assertive and cooperative. The competitor attempts to satisfy his or her own concerns at the other person’s expense.
  • Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative. The collaborator searches for a win-win situation.
  • Compromising is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The compromiser tries to find a settlement.
  • Avoiding is both assertive and uncooperative. The avoider sidesteps the conflict without attempting to satisfy any concerns.
  • Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative. The accommodator tries to satisfy others’ concerns at the expense of his or her own concerns.

(Thomas, K. 2002).

When you complete the TKI test, your results will include the conflict resolution and interpersonal uses as well as descriptions and contributions of each of the five styles. Questions “to ask yourself” are also included to help you discover if you are perhaps overusing or underutilizing conflict management modes.

The five conflict style uses, descriptions, signs of overuse, and underutilization are as follows:


Competitors value tough-mindedness, up-front honesty, and courage. They see others with different points of view as their opponents and they try to win in conflict management situation.

The TKI Assessment Report explains that the Competing Style is useful in two ways: when you are dealing with people who tend to take advantage of non-competitors and when unpopular action is required.  As a Competitor it is important to ask yourself if you are overusing your competitiveness. You can be sure you are overusing this style if you are surrounded by people who consistently agree with you without any analysis of the situation. In addition, you might be overusing your Competitive Style if the people around you are afraid or insecure to present vulnerability, lack of knowledge, or slight uncertainty in subject matter.

Regarding underutilization as outlined in the TKI, if you answer yes to the following two questions, you are probably underutilizing your competitive style:

  • Do you feel powerless in situations?
  • Do you sometimes have difficulty with firmness in your beliefs and opinions? Especially when you feel that it is the right time to take action?


Collaborating Style uses include but are not limited to:

  • When you want to combine different people’s theories, beliefs and perspectives on a problem.
  • When you want to gain commitment by accepting the concerns of others into a shared decision.
  • When you need to work through hard feelings that have been getting in the way of an otherwise positive relationship.

Questions to ask yourself as signs of overuse of your Collaborating style include:

  • Do you spend an excessive amount of time discussing issues that do not warrant such discussions?
  • Does your collaborative behavior fail to elicit collaborative responses form others?

Questions to ask yourself as signs of underuse of your Collaborating Type as outlined in The TKI Instrument include:

  • Is it difficult for you to see differences as opportunities for team gain, learning or problem solving?
  • Are others uncommitted to your decisions or policies?


Compromising Style uses as outlined in The TKI Instrument include but are not limited to:

  • When goals are not vital enough to use more destructive conflict handling modes.
  • When a temporary decision is adequate.
  • When a solution-based short time frame is needed.
  • When competition and collaboration has failed.

Questions to ask yourself as signs of overuse of your Compromising Style as outlined in The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument include:

  • Do you focus excessively on pragmatic compromises that you lose sight of the “big picture”?
  • Does focusing on bargaining and trading create a cynical culture of gamesmanship?

Questions to ask yourself as signs of underuse of your Compromising Style include:

  • At times, do you find yourself shy, sensitive or embarrassed to partake in the give-and-take of bargaining?
  • Do you have a hard time making concessions?

You can check out other blogs about TKI Compromising HERE and HERE.


Avoiding Style uses include but are not limited to:

  • When an issue is less important and other important issues are waiting.
  • When you are presented by something that is very difficult to change and you lack the power to do so.
  • When more information gathering is required to make an informed decision and an immediate decision is not eminent.
  • When other people can conflict resolute more efficiently.

Questions to ask yourself as signs of overuse of your Avoiding Style include:

  • Do people have trouble getting your input on issues?
  • Do people often walk on eggshells with you whereas issues that need to be resolved and confronted are not forcing others to waist energy being overly cautious?
  • Are important issues sometimes made by default without your input and critical thought analysis?

Questions to ask yourself as signs of underuse of your Avoiding Style include:

  • Do you find yourself stirring up hostility in others and/or hurting people’s feelings?
  • Do you often feel overwhelmed by a great number of issues?


Accommodating Style uses include but are not limited to:

  • When you realize you’re mistaken, allowing a more prudent solution for consideration, become educated by others, and show reasonability.
  • When it is time to satisfy others and make goodwill gestures to keep a cooperative relationship.
  • To build up credibility or social credits so that you may be more effective in later issues.
  • When further competition would further damage you wants and needs.
  • When you want to aid and develop your employees, allowing them to learn from their mistakes.

Questions to ask yourself as signs of overuse of your Accommodating Style include:

  • Do you feel that your ideas, concerns and input don’t get the attention you want?
  • Is discipline lacking?

Questions to ask yourself as signs of underuse of your Accommodating Style include:

  • Is building goodwill with others a problem?
  • Are you often seen as unreasonable?
  • Is it difficult to admit when you are mistaken?
  • Do you know when it is time to give up and move on?

(Thomas, K. 2007)

If you are under using or overusing a conflict handling style, completing the TKI Assessment can shed light on how, when, and where you can become more efficient in using your five interpersonal conflict modes. The TKI Assessment is a valuable tool in this area and has been administered to over 4 million people over the 30 years since inception and creation. I highly recommend the TKI as the leading tool in conflict management and handling behavior. To complete this assessment, click over to the the TKI section, choose the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) Profile and Interpretive Report, and get started!