What’s your Conflict Preference? Read on!

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.

How big are YOUR gloves?

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 TKI model

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!





About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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12 Responses to What’s your Conflict Preference? Read on!

  1. Pingback: Remember that last conflict you had? Which were you displaying: habit, preference or good old Amygdala Hijack? | Real Learning, for a Change

  2. Guy Arnold says:

    I have to say that actually I disagree thoroughly: I am an advocate of the Franklin Covey ‘win/win’ or ‘no deal’ model.
    All the other outcomes are well substandard.

    Also I am strongly against all these ‘models’ as they can imply that ‘it’s just the way I am’ and discourage major change: I disagree, there’s everything you can do: getting to win/win is a skill and there’s a simple tool for it (called a win/win agreement).

    Using Covey material I have seen major change almost overnight!

    (Also, I don’t do anything with ‘conflict’ in it: you can’t ‘manage’ or ‘avoid’ conflict: you can only take a ‘win/win or no deal’ attitude (which is exactly what Gandhi and Nelson M did!)) Conflict is a worthless use of time and energy. ‘An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind’

    Hope this helps (but probably not)


    • Thanks for opening up the debate, Guy. So as a clear Covey advocate, you think Win/Win is better than all other outcomes? My turn to disagree now. Do I really want to put energy and time into collaborating with the Broadband salesman who calls me at home on a Friday evening? Competitive response is called for, surely: two words, second word is “off”! Do you see no benefit in an Accommodate response on something trivial (what shall we watch on TV) in order to gain points to chip in later when it matters (Win/Win)?

      I also think you misunderstand the model. The idea is to use it to understand your conflict preference. It is not to then be used as an excuse: more of a tool to help you consciously plan not to go with your preference in every situation. Used intelligently it can help you get the best outcome.

      Final point (you made so many!): I can’t agree that “conflict is a worthless use of time.” Conflict is what drives change, and without it there would be no progress.

      There you go: these are my opinions (not Truths, please note).


      • greatorpoor says:

        Thanks: fab! We need to listen to each other more!

        Just a quick one:

        > Broadband salesman: outcome would be ‘Agree to disagree agreeably’ (Whilst we might not like the call, they are also a human being trying to make a living. This response is also a win/win because they don’t have someone adding to their stress, and we don’t get stressed by the call: therefore … no conflict’

        > TV: never accommodate: if it’s not important to you, then the real win is by watching what’s important to them. When it is important to you, the real win is by behaving (over time) in such a way that they want to watch it with you (because you are important to them). When it’s important to both, find a win/win solution that means there is no conflict: bingo!

        > Conflict: I disagree: conflict is by nature destructive. Conflict is unhealthy competition. Win/win is healthy competition.

        It’s always ‘win/win’ or ‘no deal’!


      • My final thought: your basic proposition is that it is ‘win/win’ or nothing, and yet I would say that the tone of your comment is that you are right and I am wrong, ie win/lose! Putting forward your opinion so forcefully and with no room for manoeuvre suggests to me that you may be more competitive than you like to think! There you go, I can do conflict styles other than Accommodate when I put my mind to it.


      • greatorpoor says:


        You’re a star!

        Let’s discuss it further over a pint: or even run a seminar on it???


      • Pint of Dartmoor Ale please!


    • greatorpoor says:

      Ha ha: now we agree to disagree agreeably: lots of progress and thinking: but NO conflict!!


  3. Dave says:

    Well you got me…. You only have to look at my last reply 😉


  4. Thanks, it’s a provocative assignment! There’s a simple but clear online “Intro to Conflict Styles” powerpoint at http://www.riverhouseepress.com, based on the same model as Mouton Blake but with different names for the styles. Also there’s a free “Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops” there for download.


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