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Conflict-Handling Intent & Behavior: Who’s the Bad Apple?

Conflict-Handling Intent & Behavior: Who’s the Bad Apple?

Written by Pamela Valencia, Solutions Consultant, CPP Professional Services

A really great booklet on conflict is Introduction to Conflict and Teams by Kenneth W. Thomas and Gail Fann Thomas. It takes that deeper dive into the perceptions of the TKI conflict modes—how we view the different modes and how others may view us when we use our preferred modes. Let’s look at some general behaviors associated with each mode, as described in the booklet.


Competing is looking at trying to win, and competitors tend to view conflict as a contest between opposing positions. They tend to be candid, tough-minded, and passionate about their convictions. If you were in a conflict over an apple with a competitor, and the competitor truly felt that the apple belonged to him, he might bite into it and take a piece out to claim it as his own.


Competitors like to make things happen and will take the lead if there is a need for quick action—for example, in a crisis situation. This mode is assertive and uncooperative, and because of this, competitors need to guard against monopolizing, not listening, exaggerating, and attacking. People with other conflict styles may see competitors as closed-minded, unfair, rash, and/or insensitive. It is important to remember, however, that competitors can be powerful advocates, willing to face facts and say what needs to be said.


Collaborating is looking for a win-win solution. Collaborators view conflict as a problem to be solved and want to bring in others to find a creative solution. This mode is both assertive and cooperative, so collaborators’ challenges tend to be overanalyzing, bringing in too many people, and wasting time fruitlessly problem solving or seeking consensus.


People with other conflict styles may see collaborators as naïve, impractical, intrusive, and/or demanding. Collaborators build on others’ ideas and listen well, and look for value in what others say. They often take the time to navigate negative feelings within a team. If you were in a conflict over an apple with a collaborator, she might try to figure out a way that you both could have access to more apples, thereby averting future conflict.


Compromising is looking to find a middle ground, and compromisers tend to view conflict as a way to be reasonable. When I think about this mode, I immediately think “half an apple.” It is the quick way to solve an argument—you both give, and you both get. Compromisers tend to be adept at finding fair solutions, especially when competing and collaborating haven’t worked. They also tend to be more positive toward relationships than competitors and take less time resolving conflicts than collaborators.


This mode is both unassertive and uncooperative, so the challenge is that sometimes compromisers will rush to settle (matters, the argument, etc.) even when more discussion time is available. Compromisers need to guard against compromising on ethics, values, or even integrity.


People with other conflict styles may view compromisers as too soft, short-sighted, or even pushy. However, when they use the mode correctly, compromisers tend to bring balance to situations so that extremes are avoided and agreements are made.


Avoiding is both unassertive and uncooperative. It is about managing time and costs. Avoiders tend to see conflicts as intrusions or disruptions. They are sensitive to the time costs and stress of conflict, and can help steer others clear of conflict issues. If there were a conflict about an apple, an avoider might put the apple down, walk away, and perhaps go buy an orange for himself since that apple is not worth the time, energy, or stress. Avoiders are focused on using time wisely, only on important issues and when the conditions are right. People with other conflict styles may see them as too cautious to take a risk, uninterested in getting to the bottom of things, or unresponsive to people’s concerns.


Avoiders value their time and energy, and the ability to be prepared. If you tend to rely on the avoiding mode, it is important to recognize that the situation may not be worth your time but people are. Be aware of your tendencies to miss meetings, avoid people, and procrastinate.


Accommodating is looking to “yield.” Accommodators tend to see conflicts as social/emotional issues to be settled with support and sensitivity. Their compassion and generosity help build and maintain relationships during times of conflict. They readily serve as sympathetic ears and can become peacemakers who restore harmony. If they were involved in a dispute about an apple, they might give it to the other person and then make apple pie for everyone.


Because this mode is unassertive and cooperative, the challenges for people with this conflict style are their tendencies to not be true to themselves, sacrifice for others, and appease people. People with other conflict styles may see accommodators as too nice, too protective, and too concerned.


Learn more about the TKI? How about an introduction webinar?


This blog is one in a series of many about Relationships and Conflict:

This is the second part in a series of three blog posts about the TKI. Read the first blog post about the TKI here.

Read the first blog post in the Relationships and Conflict series: Increasing Self-Awareness and Understanding Team

Enter your information to download the ebook when it comes out about Relationships & Conflict.

Want an overview of the entire Relationships and Conflict series in a creative visual – yeah, we’ve got that too.


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