Each person has the ability to use each of five conflict-handling modes to resolve issues

Negotiating is something we do every day without even thinking about it. The successful resolution of conflicts depends upon your ability to negotiate. It is valuable professionally to step back and examine your personal negotiating style.

Professors Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann, two noted experts in the field of conflict management and industrial administration, have devised an instrument to evaluate individuals’ behavior in conflict situations. They define such situations as those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. They measure personal behavior along two dimensions:

  • Assertiveness: The extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy his/her own concerns.
  • Cooperativeness: The extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy another’s concerns.

According to Thomas and Kilmann, these two basic dimensions of behavior can be used to define five specific styles of dealing with conflict, which they call “conflict-handling modes.” Everyone has the capacity to use each of the five modes. Most of us, however, rely on certain modes more heavily than others because we are better and more practiced at them:

  1. Competing: This personality is assertive and uncooperative. Competitors pursue their own concerns at another’s expense. For competitors, “the ends justify the means.”
  2. Accommodating: This individual is unassertive and cooperative. Accommodators often neglect their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others. Accommodators prefer to “kill their enemies with kindness.”
  3. Avoiding: Avoiders are unassertive and uncooperative. They do not immediately pursue their own concerns or those of others. They never address the conflict. Avoiders tend to “leave well enough alone.”
  4. Collaborating: This personality is both assertive and cooperative. Collaborators attempt to work with the other person to find some solution that satisfies the concerns of both. Collaborators are “win-win” negotiators who believe that two heads are better than one.
  5. Compromising: This personality lies between assertiveness and cooperativeness. The goal of the compromiser is to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromising might mean exchanging concessions or seeking a quick, middle ground position. The compromiser lives by the motto “Let’s split the difference.”

Increasing your understanding of these different negotiation styles is important to mastering the art of negotiation. It can help you analyze conflict situations and employ the appropriate style for each. Self-awareness is key.

Which conflict resolution style best describes you? Your spouse? Your boss? If we use methods that heighten conflict and increase negative feelings, we may make our personal and professional lives more difficult and less successful. If we can learn effective ways to achieve mutually acceptable negotiated outcomes, we can resolve our disputes faster and more satisfactorily. This requires us to look honestly at our own styles and be willing to change.

Bruce L. Blitman is an attorney and Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit, Family and County Court mediator.