Successful Conflict Management
Conflict is often seen as being negative or oppositional. Two people want different things; one is right and the other is wrong. However, this is not the only perspective. Conflict can also be framed as two people needing to reach an agreement, even if they care about different things or have different values.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) is a great place to start to understand conflict and how people resolve them. The TKI® identifies five conflict management “modes”, each of which has its own benefits and costs. The key to successfully resolving conflicts is to understand what your default modes are and how to deploy different modes strategically to achieve the best possible outcomes for everyone.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode: Collaborating
The Collaborating mode is a “win-win” mode, where both parties are trying to find a solution that fully satisfy both parties’ needs. While collaborating, people often share their own values and goals, as well as why they are important. Then, the two people are on the same side—working together to make both of their goals a reality, instead of working against each other and seeing one’s achievement as coming at the other’s expense. In many cases, they also see building a new alliance or relationship as valuable in and of itself.
Collaborating generally leads to excellent decision-making, since it puts more minds on a given problem. It also improves learning and communication, which then strengthen both professional and personal relationships. However, these benefits come with a cost. The TKI™ Collaborating style often takes more time than other conflict-resolution modes, and so it has a higher psychological cost. Some people, especially in business or political negotiations, also get concerned that collaborating could reveal company secrets or otherwise put them in a vulnerable position. As with all of the modes, the key is deciding when and how to collaborate.
When to use the Collaborating Conflict Management Style
In order to be successful, collaboration is only successful if both parties have adequate time, trust, and interpersonal skills to reach a suitable decision. You can do this by setting aside time to study important issues, identifying promising win-win issues to explore, provide training in conflict management skills, and building trust and goodwill. Try to be honest throughout the negotiation process, while also staying respectful. This mindset is important as soon as the issue is raised. Ask if this is a good time to start the discussion, and use “we” language to avoid assigning blame (e.g., “Our approach could use some work.”). From there, try to identify and clarify common concerns. You will probably have more in common than you think. From there, you can turn your efforts to working together to solve the problem. As you continue your discussion, stay flexible and use exploratory language (i.e., “We could do X” instead of “We should do X.”) Once you’ve brainstormed a number of possible approaches, decide together on the best course of action.
With a little effort and focus on modes of conflict resolution, you’ll be able to resolve conflicts and reach the best conclusions more and more easily.
Introduction to Conflict Management (Kenneth W. Thomas, 2002, CPP Inc.)