5 Conflict Styles

Use the 5 Conflict Styles model to explore different approaches to conflict and find ways to achieve the best outcome for everyone.
5 Conflict Management Styles Mutomorro
Download a free Template for the 5 Conflict Styles

What are the 5 Conflict Styles?

The 5 Conflict Management Styles (or conflict strategy) was developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann. It’s a model that explores the different ways we approach conflict, how behavioural styles play a part, pros and cons for each and potential outcomes you can expect.

It’s a model that helps us understand how our behaviours display when we’re in a conflict situation – and how each approach can serve us differently. Although there are generally “better” ways to deal with conflict (we’ve all experienced how unproductive a shouting match can be) it also considers that different situations may need different approaches, and each has their own benefits.

Because conflict is often emotionally charged and it can be difficult to zoom and out and view the situation objectively when we’re “in the moment”. Conflict strategy is a way to help us step back and analyse the situation in a more considered way – helping us reflect on our own behaviour and approach to resolution.

How is the 5 Conflict Styles model used?

We all experience conflict in our lives – it’s an inevitable part of dealing with other people. Equally, we’ll all tend to have a default when it comes to how we manage conflict.

Understanding the different approaches to conflict, and the interplay between them, can be helpful in knowing how best to act or find a resolution. It’s also a useful tool so we can reflect on how our behaviour and approach is impacting the situation. For example, if we feel taken advantage of and are perhaps behaving in a passive way, or tend to impact relationships by being too confrontational or aggressive.

It’s a useful model to explore how you or others are dealing with conflict, and how this may affect the outcome – both in the short term (while the conflict is happening) and also in the longer-term (how the relationship might be affected).

A range useful tools, exercises and templates for organisational change, personal growth, coaching and teamwork.

A quick note about confrontation: It’s important to note that conflict isn’t the same as confrontation – and this model looks at conflict in its purest form. A disagreement between two parties. It doesn’t look at confrontation or aggressive behaviour per-se, and won’t be useful in situations where the issue is aggressive behaviour.

How to use the 5 Conflict Styles

Here’s a quick overview of the 5 Conflict Management Styles (or conflict strategy) It breaks down the theory and the 5 different styles.

The scales of conflict

First, let’s look at the two scales we’re going to use in the model. The scales are essentially the axis used to look at different conflict styles.

The Cooperation scale

5 Conflict Styles -  The Cooperation scale

The cooperation scale considers conflict based on how collaborative you and the other party are being. On one end of the scale you have cooperative and the other uncooperative. Thing of these as the level of passivity being displayed and willingness to collaborate.

The Assertiveness scale

5 Conflict Styles - Assertiveness Scale

This scale looks at assertiveness (not to be confused with aggression). Another way to look at assertiveness is how proactive or passive people are being in the conflict. On one end you have a highly passive response to conflict, the other a more proactive one.

Now let’s look at the 5 styles that fit on the two axis.

The 5 Styles of Conflict Strategy

These are the styles of conflict strategy in the 5 Conflict Management Styles. Each one sits in a different quadrant.

5 Conflict Management Styles
  1. Accommodating strategy – an unassertive and cooperative conflict strategy.
  2. Avoiding strategy – an unassertive and uncooperative conflict strategy.
  3. Competing strategy – an assertive and uncooperative conflict strategy.
  4. Collaborating – an assertive and cooperative conflict strategy.
  5. Compromising – sits in the middle of the graph.

1. Accommodating style of conflict strategy

The accommodating style sits in the unassertive and cooperative quadrant. It’s considered a passive but cooperative style in the 5 Conflict Management Styles.

5 Conflict Management Styles - 1. Accommodating Conflict Style

Characteristics of accommodating conflict strategy

An accommodating style puts relationship above all else and aims to retain it by making concessions for the other party. It’s not an assertive approach as it tends to allow the other party to set terms – and will set an unequal balance between each party.

Pros – accommodating conflict strategy

  • Effective at retaining relationships and keeping the peace.
  • Puts the relationship above all else.
  • Minimising perceived (and actual) loss for the other party.

Cons – accommodating conflict strategy

  • Creates a power imbalance between the two parties where one is able to demand from the other.
  • Can cause resentment if one side seems to be taking all concessions.
  • Open to abuse by more assertive approaches.

What’s an example of using an Accommodating strategy?

The accommodating style is suitable in situations where maintaining relationships is more important than the outcome of the conflict. It is a selfless style that involves putting the other person’s needs and desires before yours.

Imagine that you and your partner are planning your vacation, but you have different preferences. You want to go to the beach, but your partner prefers hiking. In this case, you could use the accommodating style and agree to go hiking, knowing that it is more important to your partner than it is to you. By doing so, you are preserving the relationship and showing that you care about your partner’s feelings.

However, if you always use this style, you might end up feeling resentful that your needs are never being met. It is crucial to use the accommodating style selectively and only in situations where maintaining the relationship is more important than the outcome.

Avoiding style of conflict strategy

The avoiding style sits in the unassertive and uncooperative quadrant of the 5 conflict styles. It’s a passive and uncooperative style of conflict strategy.

5 Conflict Styles -  Avoiding Style

Characteristics of avoiding conflict strategy

The avoiding strategy aims not to engage in the conflict at all. It will generally involve someone removing themselves from the conflict and not being willing to participate in finding a solution. It can sometimes involve someone choosing to walk away or not engage in the conversation, or more covert ways of avoiding the conflict like not brining it up or changing the subject.

Pros – avoiding conflict strategy

  • Can be useful if one party needs more space or time to consider their options before engaging.
  • As a negotiation strategy if one party knows they are at a disadvantage.

Cons – avoiding conflict strategy

  • Can cause delays and blockages if one party isn’t willing to engage in the conflict.
  • Can cause the conflict to escalate or become repressed if not addressed properly.
  • Can suggest a lack of concern for the other party if not willing to continue the dialogue.

What’s an example of using an Avoiding strategy?

The avoiding style is suitable in situations where the conflict is not significant, and the outcome does not matter. It is a non-confrontational style that involves sidestepping the issue and hoping it will go away.

For example, your colleague has a habit of speaking loudly on the phone, which is distracting you from your work. You could use the avoiding style and put on headphones to block out the noise instead of addressing the issue with your colleague.

While the avoiding style may seem like an easy way out, it is not always effective. In some cases, the conflict may escalate, and you may end up feeling frustrated and powerless.

Competing style of conflict strategy

The competing style sits in the assertive and uncooperative quadrant of the 5 conflict styles. It’s an active and uncooperative style of conflict strategy.

5 Conflict Management Styles 3. Competing Conflict Style Mutomorro

Characteristics of competing conflict strategy

This conflict style aims to create the advantage or win the conflict. It’s a style that assumes one person needs to win and the other needs to lose. It looks at conflict as a zero-sum game and aims to create the advantage. It reflects a certain mentality and perspective on conflict.

Pros – competing conflict strategy

  • Can be effective in crisis situations when decisions need to be made quickly.

Cons – competing conflict strategy

  • Can be highly detrimental to the on-going relationship.
  • Can display a toxic culture or personality.
  • Can degrade trust for future negotiations.

What’s an example of using an Competing strategy?

The competing style is suitable in situations where you need to stand up for your rights or beliefs. It is a confrontational style that involves asserting your needs and desires while disregarding the other person’s feelings.

For instance, imagine that you are negotiating a salary raise with your boss, and you know that you deserve more than what they are offering. In this case, you could use the competing style and present your case forcefully and confidently, without giving in to your boss’s demands.

However, if you always use this style, you may end up damaging relationships and creating a hostile work environment. It is essential to use the competing style selectively and only in situations where you need to assert yourself.

Collaborating style of conflict strategy

The collaborating style sits in the assertive and cooperative quadrant. It’s an active and cooperative style of conflict strategy.

5 Conflict Management Styles - Collaborating style

Characteristics of collaborating conflict strategy

Generally seen as the most constructive approach of the 5 conflict styles – it looks at finding common ground and co-creating a solution together. The process here is as important as the outcome as it puts both parties in a position of control (something important in conflict). It also allows both parties to build something that feels amicable.

Pros – collaborating conflict strategy

  • Builds trust, respect and openness into the relationship.
  • Often able to achieve a win-win on both sides.
  • Allows both sides to worth together on a solution.

Cons – collaborating conflict strategy

  • Can be a long process and involve multiple iterations.
  • Only effective if both sides are willing to collaborate – especially ineffective with Avoiding or Competing styles.

What’s an example of using a Collaborating strategy?

The collaborating style is suitable in situations where you want to find a win-win solution that benefits everyone involved. It is a cooperative style that involves working together to find a mutually beneficial outcome.

For example, imagine that you and your business partner have different ideas on how to expand your business. You could use the collaborating style and brainstorm together to find a solution that incorporates both of your ideas, leading to a more successful outcome for both of you.

The collaborating style is the most effective style in most situations, as it helps build relationships, fosters trust, and leads to long-term solutions.

Compromising style of conflict strategy

The collaborating style sits in the middle of the quadrant of the 5 conflict styles. It’s a similar style to collaborating but moves away from cooperation and assertiveness.

5 Conflict Management Styles - Compromising Style

Characteristics of compromising conflict strategy

This style is similar to collaborating but tends to be less willing to work on a solution and less assertive in approach. It’s a middle ground that is generally the second position taken once the first position has failed. For example, it may be a fallback after collaborating or competing have failed.

Pros – compromising conflict strategy

  • Useful as a fallback position if the first approach has failed or isn’t working.
  • Can make both parties feel like they’ve got something.

Cons – compromising conflict strategy

  • Can sometimes make neither party feel like they got what they wanted.
  • Can often be felt as a stalemate option.

What’s an example of using a Compromising strategy?

The compromising style is suitable in situations where both parties need to give up something to reach an agreement. It involves finding a middle ground that satisfies both parties.

For instance, imagine that you and your roommate have different preferences on how to decorate your living room. You could use the compromising style and agree to mix both of your ideas to create a space that reflects both of your styles.

While compromising may seem like a fair solution, it may not always lead to the best outcome. It is essential to use the compromising style selectively and only in situations where both parties are willing to give up something.

Conclusion

In conclusion, conflict resolution is an essential skill in both personal and professional settings. By understanding the five conflict styles and knowing when to apply them, you can effectively manage conflict and build strong relationships. Remember to use the styles selectively and adapt them to each situation to achieve the best possible outcome.

Now that you have a better understanding of the different conflict styles, I encourage you to practice applying them in real-life situations. With time and practice, you will become a skilled conflict resolver and enjoy more harmonious relationships.

Free Template: 5 Conflict Styles

To help you get started, I’ve put together an example you can start using today.

5 Conflict Styles – Free Template

Use this template as a starting point for exploring the 5 Conflict Management Styles.

5 Conflict Management Styles

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 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

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