Successful leaders manage conflict; they don’t shy away from it or suppress it but see it as an engine of creativity and innovation…
–Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Our COMPASS series continues; this week we’ll talk about Appropriately Managing Conflict.

When many people hear the word “conflict” they think of negative situations. It may be, or in its simplest form, it could be a disagreement or difference of opinion which can be inspirational and lend itself to creativity and growth.

When conflict is not appropriately managed, problems arise; ill feelings surface, morale diminishes, and productivity suffers.

How well do you manage conflict? Do you face it head-on? Do you hope it will go away?

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman identified 5 modes of conflict. Some styles sound like they may be “better” than others but in reality, there is no right or wrong style; all five modes are useful when used in the appropriate situation.

The 5 Conflict Modes


  • This is a power-oriented mode and is assertive and uncooperative; the individual pursues his or her own interest at the expense of the other person.


  • This is the opposite of competing and is unassertive and cooperative. The accommodating person neglects their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others.


  • Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative. The individual does not pursue their own concern or those of another person.


  • This is the opposite of avoiding where the individual is both assertive and cooperative and works to satisfy all of the concerns of everyone.


  • This falls between competing and accommodating and is both assertive and cooperative, a mutually acceptable solution is reached, and both parties make concessions to resolve the issue.

When to Leverage Each Style

The COMPETING mode is most effective when quick, decisive action is required and for important issues that may be unpopular or are vital to the organization. Examples include discipline, cost cutting, legal requirements, and enforcing company rules and policies.

ACCOMMODATING is useful when preserving harmony is essential, for allowing others to learn from their mistakes (where the risk is minimal), when you realize you can learn from others and that their position is likely a better solution or that the issue is much more important to the other person than it is to you.

AVOIDING is useful when there are more pressing issues,  when others are addressing the situation and don’t require your intervention, when gathering more information is more important than having an immediate response, when you have no chance of satisfying your own concerns,  and to let people cool down and reduce tension and then readdress the concern at a later time.

COLLABORATING is useful when there are important issues on both sides which can not be compromised, must be integrated into a solution,  and when there is a need to work through hard feelings that are impacting interpersonal relationships.

COMPROMISING is useful when there are time constraints and solutions must be obtained quickly when your issue is moderately important, when two opponents of equal power are strongly committed to differing goals but must reach a solution (example: labor contracts), and as a back-up when collaboration or competition fails.

Effective leaders understand the value of all conflict styles. They readily adapt to the style most appropriate for the situation, and they intervene only when necessary.

Recommended Reading

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni

Conflict Management: A Practical Guide to Developing Negotiation Strategies– Barbara A. Budjac Corvette Ph. D.

What are your strengths and opportunities for managing conflict?

Do you know your preferred conflict style? Do you overuse it?

Can you recognize the conflict styles of others and do you manage the conflict if styles are being inappropriately utilized?

We’d love to hear your success stories!

QwikCoach summary and link:

Planning activities need to be done at both tactical and strategic levels.  For planning efforts to be successful, leaders must be attentive to both.

Do you appropriately handle conflict?

Use the COMPASS and rate yourself objectively.

Now rate your team.

Do you see opportunities for improvement?