Leadership Guide for Managing Conflict, Part 3: Test Your Conflict-Handling Skills

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Let’s put your conflict handling-skills to the test!

In this three-part series on conflict management, I introduced the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), a fantastic tool to guide leaders when facing conflict. With the introduction of TKI came an explanation of the five conflict-handling modes—competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, accommodating—and recognizing which mode you use most frequently. Then, we went through each conflict-handling mode and discussed when to use, and when not to use, each one.

For a review of the conflict-handling modes, please reference the detailed table shown in last week’s post.

In this post, let’s test out the skills you’ve learned, or polish up the skills you already have, with the scenarios below. This will give you great preparation for any conflict scenario that arises in real-time.

Below, you will be faced with four individual conflict scenarios, and you will choose from the five TKI conflict-handling modes to identify the best (not the only) approach to the situation. Before testing your skills, please remember that not all conflicts are cut and dry. Many benefit from an evolving or hybrid approach.

Good luck!

 

Conflict Scenario 1

You and your colleague, Juan, have been assigned to work together on a pitch for a large potential account at your agency. You both have different approaches to the pitch; each one has a high potential for success. Now you’ve been told you have one hour before presenting the pitch to your supervisor and you can only present one pitch.

What is the best TKI conflict mode approach to this situation?

TKI Modes

Conflict Scenario 2

You are working with the corporate legal department team to consider a new approach to the existing yearly proxy statement process. The team has worked diligently on the proposal for the past few months. One team member, Marie, is obsessed with minor details, and is holding up the submission of the proposal despite the team covering those details multiple times. Marie starts to get in a heated debate with other members on the team, who feel the hold up is unnecessary and looks bad for the team as a whole. You engage with Marie to help this person understand the team’s perspective and now she is debating with you. The outcomes of continuing a debate may not yield fruitful results for the team and Marie is not in a position of authority.

What is the best TKI conflict mode approach to this situation?

TKI Modes

Conflict Scenario 3

You have worked with a group of individuals that constantly end up saying “yes” to you. It is clear that you know what you want, when you want it, how you want it…and you usually get it. However, during your performance review, your supervisor noted that your team not only seems disengaged, but they also aren’t developing. Your supervisor suggests you give them a greater role in decision-making and offer them more opportunities to create procedures. There’s an exciting project that you are eager to turn into a success, which requires a team to accomplish, so you schedule a meeting with your team to solidify their involvement in the project. At the meeting, the team begins to share their ideas, and you inform them that you’ve already thought through all of their suggestions on your own. Soon you realize many of your team members are saying absolutely nothing during the meeting. After the meeting, you learn many of your team members have decided to commit to a different project. You call a second meeting with your team.

What is the best TKI conflict mode approach to this situation?

TKI Modes

Conflict Scenario 4

You are working with your manager, David, on a project. Several weeks have passed and you feel like you haven’t gotten anywhere near agreeing on an approach for completion. David is juggling multiple projects, and dealing with external pressures, which has left less time for the project at hand. Frustrated, confident in your ideas, and eager to get the project in motion, you ask David to set aside some time for you two to really hammer down a solution. He agrees, sets a time on the calendar for you two to meet the following day and asks you to lead the meeting.

What is the best TKI conflict mode approach to this situation?

TKI Modes

I hope these scenarios helped you practice your conflict-management skills. You’ll find the answers below. These are not the only way to handle each conflict, but represent the best choice of the five.

As conflict arises in your organization, I urge you to pay attention to your immediate response. Ask yourself if your natural response is the best way to deal with the conflict. Identify your ideal outcome of the situation and adjust your conflict-handling mode to better facilitate that outcome.

I’d love to hear about your development as a leader as it relates to dealing with conflict. What have you learned along the way? Was there any particular conflict that left you baffled? I invite you to share your insight for the betterment of all of us. Please send me an email, or a tweet.

 

Answer Key:

  1. Accommodate/Compete. In this scenario, one person will have to accommodate, and the other person will have to compete, in order to meet the deadline. Then you’ll have to work together quickly. You could compromise, but that is not the best available approach to this conflict. Why? Because compromising takes time, which you don’t have.
  2. Avoid/Compete. There are two options for handling this conflict. You either have to compete to get person to stop talking, or avoid the situation entirely and put it in a parking lot for later. In this case, avoiding the conflict will avoid escalating the situation and further causing damage to the team. 
  3. Accommodate. This conflict situation is so bad that you will need to build trust amongst the team from scratch. To do this, accommodate by listening deeply and building relationships. Over time, practice all of the conflict modes, instead of just competing.
  4. Compete. In order to get your ideas on your manager’s radar and harness his attention, you will need to compete during the initial time together. After you’ve grabbed his attention, and he shares his ideas, move to compromise if you disagree with him.
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