Last week I tried out a new exercise in assessing your personal preference for handling conflict. I asked you to write down the least lawful thing you have ever done. If you missed the post and are interested to find out more, here it is again.
The way you just responded to my instruction might be a useful indicator as to how you prefer to deal with Conflict. The question I asked was a cheeky one, to say the least. Some might say inappropriate, rude, intrusive, risky. How did you respond?
Let’s look at this through the lens of the world’s most widely used Conflict Preferences model; the Thomas – Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. (TKI for short). The model is based on the premise that we all have a personal preference for how we respond in a conflict situation. We are able to use our non preferred response, but under pressure and in the heat of the moment, our preferred response is the most likely to present itself.
The model shows five Conflict Modes, each of which varies based on the extent to which, when under pressure, you are concerned with what other people need (what Kilmann calls Co-operativeness) or how much you are concerned with your own needs (what he calls Assertiveness).
Your preferences are organic: they evolve. You learn how to deal with conflict, from others around you, where you work, the nature of your work, and so on. Maybe your boss encourages a certain style, or other styles are frowned on your organization. Chances are these might influence your personal “defaults” when there is conflict around.
Let’s see if, when I asked you to write down the least lawful thing you have ever done, your response was your Preference in action.
An Accommodator might have done as instructed, but not felt very comfortable about it. Maybe wrote down a truthful answer that was in fact the least lawful thing they have ever done, and glad they used a pencil so they can rub it out (because it’s incriminating evidence!). Complied with my request because I issued it and I’m in charge here. Was that how you responded?
What about an Avoider? Maybe didn’t do it at all, hoping that wouldn’t spoil their understanding. Maybe wrote down something that wasn’t true, or something that was unlawful but not the most unlawful thing they had ever done. Was this you?
A Competer might perhaps have proudly written down something that was true (maybe rather pleased with it as it was very naughty at the time, but non one found out and they got away with it) but knowing that under no circumstances are you going to share what you wrote down. You meet the challenge from me, but have a plan for how to get the better of me if necessary.
A Compromiser is someone who likes to find workable solutions when there is conflict around, but not spend all night over it. “It’ll do: it’s not perfect, but let’s move on.” So this person might have written something a bit illegal – something which might go along with the exercise in order to get the learning from it, but shying away from revealing the truly illegal thing they did 10 years ago. Working with me, but not revealing their complete hand. Might this have been your response?
And finally the Collaborator. This person might have gone along with the exercise despite feeling uncomfortable, because they were prepared to take a risk in order to get the maximum return from their investment. So they might have written down the truth but would draw the line if I said the next stage of the exercise is to email me what you wrote. If we’d been face to face this person would have asked questions of the “what’s in it for me?’ type, and if satisfied that there was a benefit from taking the risk, would have been happy to do so.
It may or may not be the case that there is a link from this exercise to your Conflict Profile. Only you can answer that. Whatever your preference is, there are implications for you: it will affect the way others respond to you, how much energy it takes you to resolve conflict, and quite possibly the results you tend to get. All of which need to be the subject of further posts.
I’d love to know whether this exercise did draw out what you think is your conflict preference, as I am planning to include it in a book I’m writing. Please let me know!