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5 Conflict Resolution Models - Choose Your Strategy

Last updated on
September 28, 2023


  • Conflict is a natural part of working with a group of professionals, but it can affect productivity if not resolved properly.
  • The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) provides five modes of responding to conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating.
  • Competing mode involves asserting your own agenda at the expense of others and is useful in situations requiring quick decisions, safety concerns, or enforcing rules.
  • Collaborating mode aims to satisfy both sides and find a win-win solution, and it is useful for difficult situations, merging solutions, and encouraging discussions.
  • Compromising mode seeks a solution that partially satisfies both sides, reducing tension and allowing relatively quick decisions when collaboration and competition fail.
  • Avoiding mode delays addressing the conflict and is used when the issue is not serious or when a bigger issue requires more time and effort to solve.
  • Accommodating mode prioritizes the needs of the other side, mending relationships and maintaining a positive environment, and is useful for quick resolutions or valuing relationships over outcomes.


5 Conflict Resolution Models - Choose Your Strategy


When working with a group of professionals you’re hoping that everything goes smoothly. However, it is vital to understand that your team consists of individuals, whose thoughts and opinions may clash with each other. Implementing the right conflict resolution strategy will strengthen the bonds within your team and ensure the positive outcome of your future projects.

5 ways of responding to conflict

Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone could agree with each other? As great as that sounds, it simply isn’t realistic. Disagreements are a natural part of life and a sign of trust and openness with other team members. However, when disagreements start affecting your work it is time to consider how to respond in a constructive way. That’s where conflict resolution models come into play. 

The Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) provides different modes of responding to conflict. It operates on a scale based on two dimensions: assertiveness (satisfying your own agenda) and cooperativeness (satisfying other people’s agenda). 

These two dimensions can be used to define five modes of dealing with conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating

5 ways of responding to conflict



Competing model is characterised by a high level of assertiveness and low level of cooperativeness. In this mode, you’re trying to satisfy your own agenda, even at other people’s expense. Winning is your main goal, and you’ll stop at nothing to defend your vision. You can do that by using your own experience, rank or financial penalty to assert your own point of view.

This mode can be used to quickly achieve your desired outcome, however the consequence is that you might damage the relationships with your team members beyond repair and put the future of your team at risk. As negative as it may sound, there are some occasions when it is necessary to put your foot down.


When is this mode the most useful?

  • When you have to make a quick decision
  • When there is a safety concern
  • When you are completely sure of your opinion
  • When the outcome is more important than the relationships with your team members
  • When you have to cut costs or enforce a rule
  • When someone questions your authority


Let’s imagine for a moment that a member of your team is careless with how he keeps his passwords – he leaves them written down on a piece of paper and then forgets about it. If someone outside of your company got their hands on them it could lead to some serious damage for your company. Your colleague ignored your warnings and didn’t change his behaviour, so you decided to reprimand him and pull him out of the project. Since there was an issue of safety this was the quickest course of action.

competing style example

A thing to remember about

It’s important to distinguish between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Even in a high-stress environment you shouldn’t ignore other people’s boundaries. Be firm and stand your ground – but remain respectful.



When you take a look at the top right corner of the diagram you will find the collaborative style, which is characterised by high assertiveness and high cooperativeness. You want to satisfy both sides and find a “win-win” solution. 

This conflict resolution style works best in a situation, where you’re dealing with a serious issue and want to maintain a positive relationship with the other party. Implementing this style will help you get to the root issue of the problem and strengthen the bonds with your team members via an open discussion and active listening.


In what situations is this style useful?

  • When you want to turn a difficult situation into a teachable moment
  • When you’re trying to merge solutions
  • When you want to encourage discussions
  • When there’s an opportunity for an equal distribution of work
  • When you want to inspire creative problem solving


When your co-worker comes up to you with an unusual idea that you’re not too sure about, you can implement this style to solve this issue. You can sit down together and exchange your thoughts. At first, you thought this idea would be impossible to carry out, however you soon realised that there are ways of combining both of your methods that benefit your project.

collaborating style example

A thing to remember about

The drawback of this style is that it’s time consuming and delays decision making. Overuse of this style can lead to overcomplicating the issue and unnecessarily dragging out the problem.



This conflict resolution style can be found right in the middle of the chart and it focuses on finding a solution that at least partially satisfies both sides.  Everyone wants to be right, but each side has to let go a little. 

This style is useful when the topic is moderately important to you and both sides share a similar level of influence. You can achieve an agreement that somewhat satisfies you within a relatively short amount of time.


When to use this conflict resolution style?

  • Reduces tension between team members
  • Allows you to come to a decision relatively quickly
  • Lets you achieve temporary settlements
  • Ensures each side is partially happy
  • When collaboration and competition fails to achieve a positive outcome


Similarly to the example from the previous paragraph – two colleagues can have different opinions on how to solve a time-sensitive issue, but this time it’s more difficult for them to find a common ground. To make sure that this problem is solved relatively quickly they each have to adjust their requirements for the time being.

compromising style example

A thing to remember about

In this style it’s difficult to ensure that each side is treated equally fair, which can cause some people to feel resentment or frustration. Foster a safe and inclusive space where all individuals feel comfortable expressing their perspectives. Throughout the process, maintain open lines of communication with both sides. Encourage ongoing dialogue and address any concerns or imbalances that may arise.



The avoiding conflict resolution style doesn’t satisfy any sides. It is low on assertiveness and cooperativeness. You might be asking yourself why would anyone use this style if no one’s happy, however sometimes that might be exactly the reason to use it. If no one is satisfied then the problem can be pushed until later, when you are ready to choose a different approach. 

This mode can be used when the problem isn’t too serious or when you realise the conflict is a sign of a bigger issue that requires more time and effort to solve. It’s also possible that the issue will resolve itself when given an appropriate amount of time.


In what scenarios would you use this style?

  • When you don’t want to rush with your decision
  • When currently you can’t deal with the conflict
  • When the situation isn’t too dire
  • When the risk of confrontation isn’t worth the outcome
  • When there are more important matters to take care of

A thing to remember about

The issue with this conflict resolution mode is that if used too often it can make the other side feel as if their thoughts and opinions don’t matter to you. That may lead to passive-aggressiveness and create a negative environment that doesn’t allow for any new ideas to grow.

avoiding style example



The last mode of dealing with conflicts is the accommodating style, which is unassertive, but cooperative. In this style, the needs of the other side are more important than your own. This way you can mend relationships and maintain a positive environment at work.


When can you use this conflict resolution style?

  • When you want to quickly resolve the issue
  • When you value the relationship with your colleague more than the outcome of the decision
  • When you want to earn appreciation of others
  • When you want to restore peace 
  • When you feel that your opinion is wrong


Let’s imagine a scenario, where your colleague is asking you to change some of her tasks. On your team no one else but you can take care of her responsibilities, but you are aware how busy she has been recently. To help with her workload you take some of these tasks from her shoulders, even if it means more work for you.

accommodating style example

A thing to remember about

There are, of course, some drawbacks of this conflict resolution style. If used too often it can undermine your leadership or limit your ability to solve more complex problems.

Nip it in the bud

Before the conflict escalates you should try and see if there are other ways to stop the conflict from emerging altogether. There are a few tips that can help you achieve it:

  1. Listen - make sure that you’re really taking into consideration what your team members are saying. Let them express their concerns and ask questions related to the topic. Honesty is key, so embrace both the negative and the positive voices.
  2. Create a safe space - it’s important to create an environment, where everyone feels calm and safe. You can use a private room or a distant corner of your office where you can make sure that no one will eavesdrop on your conversation.
  3. Set boundaries - it’s good to recognise the boundaries of others and to set your own. Don’t take too much responsibility if it can be avoided and ensure that your team members are also taking what they can bear.

What’s the right strategy for you?

Since there are many methods of dealing with conflict it is your responsibility to recognise how to choose the best method for your particular situation. To help you choose the right approach you can focus on the needs instead of wants and ask questions that can help you better understand the problem at hand. Ask open ended questions that encourage discussion and clear any misunderstandings. As you learn more about the issue you can get a better idea as to which conflict resolution approach is the best.

Think of conflicts as a chance to improve the relationships within your team or boost productivity. Turn the negative into something positive and watch as your workplace improves.

Looking for other helpful resources for team leaders?

Continue your learning process with one of the following resources:

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Karolina Leśnik
Partnership Specialist

Language & psychology enthusiast. Specialized in solving problems and analyzing human nature.

Olga Gierszal
Software Engineering Editor

Software development enthusiast with 6 years of professional experience in the tech industry.

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