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Which conflict resolution model is the best? And how do you use it?
We’ll run through eight of the most widely used conflict resolution models in this detailed guide.
Research and statistics from market intelligence experts Gitnux reveals some startling statistics about conflict.
Conflict at work is common for 26% of UK employees. Citing findings from Acas, on average nearly 500,000 employees resign every year due to work conflicts.
And with almost 875,000 employees taking sick days at work due to conflict, it’s costing their firms as much as £2.2bn.
At a global level, staff spend an average of 2.1 hours per week resolving conflict, rising to a high of 2.8 hours per week in the US. Reportedly, that’s equal to $359bn in paid hours focused on conflict resolution.
Some level of conflict at work is almost inevitable, therefore it’s a good idea to know how to resolve it as efficiently and smoothly as possible.
Always remember that if you’re facing a serious conflict at work, including harassment or bullying, speak to your HR team as soon as possible.
There are many issues in the workplace that can lead to conflict – such as perceived unfairness, miscommunication, management issues or a bad culture. Let’s start by looking at a model exploring the causes of conflict.
This model is a framework that identifies five fundamental causes of conflict:
It aids in understanding the core elements contributing to conflict. By pinpointing the root issues, colleagues can address conflicts proactively.
Arguably this model is one of the best tools for identifying and analysing causes of conflict, but not necessarily for resolving them.
The next model we’ll look at is all about reaching a resolution though. It’s arguably the most well-known and widely used conflict resolution model at work.
Management professors Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann presented their conflict management model in 1974.
Here is a visual diagram of their work. They defined five ways to handle conflict, based on two sliding scales of assertiveness (the y axis) and cooperativeness (the x axis):
For example, Compete is the uncooperative and highly assertive way forward. In contrast, Accommodate is a highly cooperative but unassertive approach.
Practitioners often make comparisons between the Thomas Kilmann conflict model (TKI) and the Dual Concern Model (DCM) by psychologists Dean Pruitt and Peter Carnevale in 1993. As with many conflict models it builds on the managerial grid model developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964.
Arguably the DCM model works in a similar way to TKI but with different terminology for the approaches. For example, it uses language such as ‘force’ instead of Compete, ‘oblige’ or ‘yield’ instead of Accommodate and so on.
Let’s take a closer look at these five approaches.
While it sounds like kicking the can down the road, avoidance can make sense if you don’t want to rush a decision or if the conflict is not very serious.
You could see this as the best approach to make a quick decision, address an urgent safety concern, or if someone is undermining your authority.
This way forward often achieves the quickest results and works well if you value a working relationship with a colleague more than your personal opinion or the eventual outcome.
Benefits of this style include turning challenges into learning opportunities, combining partial solutions and inspiring creative problem-solving.
This way forward is often the next attempt after trying Collaborate or Compete. It can also decrease the tension between colleagues, but may not satisfy everyone.
Here are several other conflict models:
For a simpler approach, here are some general principles that often help resolve conflict at work.
First of all, take the time to listen – let colleagues express their concerns and ask relevant questions too.
Try to create a calm environment that encourages dialogue – go to a private meeting room, don’t have a loud argument in the middle of an office!
When the conflict has calmed down, agree on some boundaries too. Take care not to take on too much extra responsibility just to placate a colleague, for example.
We’ve written several other guides covering life at work, including managing upwards – what it means and how to do it.