Successful Conflict Management
Most people think of conflict as being inherently negative. After all, conflict is a disagreement between two or more people who have fundamentally different goals, isn’t it? This perspective, while not unfounded, can create tension in personal and professional relationships. Another way to think about conflict is as two or more people who care about different things working together to achieve the best possible outcomes for everyone.
There are many different approaches to resolving a conflict, from being highly assertive, to collaborating to reach a conclusion, to giving in to others’ needs. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®), developed in the 1970s, identifies five modes of conflict management, each of which has its own strengths and drawbacks. Knowing how to deploy each of these modes effectively is key to resolving conflicts successfully.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode: Compromising
The Compromising mode occurs when both parties take turn make concessions in order to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both of them. A classic example is bargaining – Imagine you are negotiating your salary. You might request a high amount, while your prospective employer will likely offer something lower. In the end, you will most likely “meet in the middle”. The TKI™ Compromising style is typically faster than a full collaboration and has the benefit of maintaining relationships somewhat more effectively than competing. On the other hand, compromising can result in suboptimal solutions and partially sacrificed concerns, where no one is happy. The key to success is determining when and how to compromise.
Because compromising involves a partial sacrifice, save this mode for concerns that are significant, but not vital. Some conflicts, if handled inappropriately, may undermine a company’s integrity or bankrupt it all together. In these cases, it may be best to use one of the two more assertive conflict-handling modes (competing and collaborating). That said, compromising may be appropriate to reach a temporary solution to a complex issue, especially if some kind of immediate action is needed. It may also be helpful when more assertive ways of handling the conflict could harm the relationship. For example, if you disagree with your manager or supervisor, competing or collaborating may not be in your best interest or even be possible.
When to use the Compromising Conflict Management Style
Initiate the compromise by making it clear that you want to work with the other person. You could say something like, “We’re not really getting anywhere. If we’re going to meet this deadline, we need to reach a compromise. What do you think?” From there, examine the situation as objectively as possible as you reach a conclusion. You could also set an explicit criterion for fairness up front (e.g., “I’ll split the profits with you down the middle.”) Focusing on fairness is sometimes called a “principled” compromise, and is an excellent way of reaching an agreement without either party feeling like they gave too much ground or were taken advantage of.
Successfully managing conflicts can take some practice, but your efforts will be rewarded!
Introduction to Conflict Management (Kenneth W. Thomas, 2002, CPP Inc.)