Conflict Styles

Thomas and Killmanv developed a model that identified five common strategies for dealing with conflict. They believe that people tend to use certain styles habitually, even when the preferred styles may not be the most appropriate to the situation.

Identify five conflicts you have had in the past year (they can be big or small – with a partner, child, colleague or stranger). Think about how you responded.

  • Did your responses fall into the categories below?
  • Is there a response that is more typical of you than others?
  • Is there a response you have never used or rarely use?

The following are the five response styles identified by Thomas and Killman:


  • Will often give in to maintain the relationship and gain acceptance or approval
  • More concerned with the stability of the working relationship than with meeting own or organizational needs or goals


  • Will take necessary steps to avoid conflict or confrontation
  • Is most concerned about avoiding the “unpleasantness” associated with conflict


  • Searches for a solution which meets the needs of both or all parties
  • Is concerned with both the goals to be achieved and the stability of the working relationship


  • Will not give in as considers own solution best or own needs as most important
  • More concerned with achieving the goal or having needs met than with the stability of the relationship


  • Willing to meet the other half way
  • While concerned about both the goal/needs and the relationship, the approach is to “split the difference” to avoid lengthy conflict or discussion

Using the Styles Appropriately

Each style has strengths and there are circumstances when using each style is appropriate.

The following chart provides an overview of the uses of each style and the dangers of inappropriate use.

Style Uses Danger of Inappropriate Use


  • To build the relationship
  • When the issue is relatively unimportant to you, but important to the other person
  • When you have less experience or expertise than the other person
  • When preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important


  • Your needs are not met
  • You may begin to feel taken advantage of and resentful


  • When the issue or relationship is unimportant
  • To prevent an immediate conflict (e.g. inappropriate time, place, or feelings are escalated)
  • When someone else can resolve the conflict more effectively
  • When you have little chance of satisfying your concerns (e.g. national policy, someone’s basic personality, etc.)


  • Conflict may fester until it escalates
  • The relationship remains superficial


  • To find a solution that integrates both sets of concerns, as they are both important
  • To merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem
  • When commitment and “buy-in” is needed to implement a solution
  • When hard feelings have been interfering with an interpersonal, working relationship
  • May waste time and energy on issues that are not important
  • As the process can take longer it may frustrate some people


  • When quick, decisive action is important, such as emergencies
  • When your core values need to be defended
  • When it is important to you to have it your own way
  • May weaken relationships if it is perceived that you won and the other person lost
  • You receive less input and ideas from others
  • Others may not “buy-in” and sabotage the decision


  • When an agreement needs to be reached – time is important
  • When mutually exclusive goals prevent collaboration
  • To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues
  • As a backup mode when collaboration or competition is unsuccessful
  • Nobody really gets what they want or need
  • The focus becomes what you did not manage to get re needs/wants
  • Problems reoccur as they were not fully explored and resolutions found that truly work for those involved

Effective conflict management involves knowing when to use each style and having skills and experience using each style.