Conflict Resolution (Thomas-Kilmann Model)

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Researchers Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed a model for resolving conflicts. This model is known as the Thomas-Kilmann model.

Conflict occurs whenever people disagree. The disagreement could be over their perceptions, ideas, values, motivations, or desires.

This model is based on two dimensions of conflict management: assertiveness and empathy.

Based on these two dimensions, there are five conflict resolution strategies: Competing, Avoiding, Accommodating, Collaborating and Compromising.

KEY Takeaways

  • The Thomas-Kilmann Model is based on two dimensions: assertiveness and empathy.
  • There are 5 conflict resolution strategies: Compete, Avoid, Accommodate, Collaborate and Compromise.
  • Each strategy has its benefits and disadvantages. Choose the appropriate one according to the situation.

Two Dimensions of Conflict Management (Assertiveness and Empathy)

The first dimension of conflict management is assertiveness. Assertiveness refers to the ability to speak up and stand by your opinions. It can be used either positively or negatively, depending on its application. While assertive behaviour may seem aggressive, it is actually a way of expressing yourself effectively.

Empathy is the second dimension of conflict management. Empathy means understanding another person's point of view and feelings. When you empathize with someone else, you're able to put yourself into that other person's situation. As a result, you'll find ways to resolve the conflict more easily.

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Five Conflict Resolution Strategies: Competing, Avoiding, Accommodating, Collaborating and Compromising

These five strategies represent different approaches to managing conflict. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. The best approach depends on the specific circumstances at hand.

1. Competing

At the top left end of the chart, we have high assertiveness and low empathy. We use competing as a conflict resolution strategy whenever we resort to being aggressive. In addition, we also get uncooperative with the opponent.

The first strategy for dealing with conflict is competing.

This strategy works well when you are in a commanding position and have limited time and resources to resolve the conflict.

Competing is not always bad. If you think about it, competing helps us to achieve our goals.

However, this strategy has some drawbacks. First, competing usually leads to negative emotions such as anger, frustration, aggression and hostility. Second, it doesn't help you build good relationships because you don't listen to what others say. Finally, it might result in losing opportunities because the other party doesn't want to work with you anymore.

2. Avoiding

At the bottom left end of the diagram, we see low assertiveness and low empathy. That means you neither asset your position nor do you consider or emphasize the other party's point of view.

The second strategy for dealing with conflict involves avoiding it.

People use this conflict management strategy when they know that they don't have any authority over the other person. Instead, they avoid confrontation by ignoring or avoiding the conflict entirely. They also choose to ignore the issue altogether.

Avoiding is often seen as passive and weak. However, if you really need to avoid a conflict, you should definitely do so. 

By doing so, you won't have to deal with the problem, which will give you peace of mind.

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3. Accommodating

In the bottom right part of the diagram, we find low assertiveness and high empathy.

Accommodating is a third strategy for dealing with conflict.

The idea behind this approach is to make concessions. For example, if one person makes a request, you agree to do what the first person requested instead of arguing about the matter.

It's an effective way to manage conflict when you lack power. But be careful — by making concessions, you may start to lose control over your own agenda.

So how can you tell whether giving in is worth the trouble? Be sure to weigh up the pros and cons before deciding.

4. Collaboration

Up above on the top right, we see high assertiveness and high empathy.

When you collaborate, you take a moderate approach to solving problems. You attempt to balance power between yourself and another person. You also try to find common ground and work together towards achieving a shared goal.

It's an ideal choice if both parties are committed to reaching a mutual agreement. The goal here is to reach an agreement with each other.

But remember: collaboration isn't always easy. It requires sharing personal opinions and feelings. It also needs two people who trust each other and value working together.

5. Compromising

In the middle of the model is the fifth strategy, which is compromising. This is the middle of assertiveness and empathy scales.

If you compromise, you take the middle road between opposing views. This means agreeing to specific terms and giving up on certain other items. And since you're trying to resolve a disagreement, it's important that you show flexibility.

This strategy usually gives the feeling of a win-win scenario, where both parties feel that they gained something out of the conflict.


Explained Clearly. Learn Easily.

Assertiveness and Empathy.

Assertiveness is being able to stand up for yourself and say what you want. When you are assertive, you stand up for yourself and what you believe in. You are confident and clear about what you want.

Empathy is understanding how someone else is feeling. It's being able to see things from their perspective and feel along with them.

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