What Is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument?

Mary McMahon

The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument or TKI, named for its developers, assesses the way an individual responds to conflict situations. For individuals, it can be useful for identifying areas where improvement is needed as well as for spotting individual strengths. This analysis can also highlight the role of conflict in group environments and help people in a group work more productively together by being aware of how different members of the group handle conflict. People can take a self-assessment to find their TKI score, or may work with a psychologist or consultant.

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Under this model, there are five main modes for dealing with conflict, distributed across two axes. One addresses the level of assertiveness, while the other looks at cooperativeness. People who are assertive and uncooperative are competitors, while assertive and cooperative people tend more towards collaboration. The middle ground is compromise, where people balance assertiveness and cooperation. People who less assertive may be uncooperative and avoidant, or eager to cooperate but unassertive, making them more accommodating.

Each of these five types on the Thomas Kilmann conflict mode instrument has strengths and weaknesses. Someone who is accommodating tends not to create conflict on a team, for example, and doesn’t fight over small details that might irritate a competitor. On the other hand, someone routinely used to accommodation may also feel stepped on and unimportant, which can foster resentment and irritation with the rest of a team. Over time, this can cause problems with the group dynamic, as people may be unaware that one individual is not happy with the status quo.

A mixture of Thomas Kilmann conflict mode instrument traits can be valuable. There are times when assertiveness can be very useful to get a job done, while in other instances, avoidance may be more appropriate for a conflict. People with an even mix of these characteristics may be able to more effectively balance the needs of team members and work toward resolutions that satisfy everyone. A person with an extreme Thomas Kilmann conflict mode instrument score can have trouble resolving conflicts by being heavy-handed or unable to assert a point of view in a discussion.

Different approaches to dispute resolution and conflict handling can be a topic of interest in business as well as other environments where people need to work together to accomplish common goals. Before someone is placed on a team, screening with measures like the Thomas Kilmann conflict mode instrument can provide more information about whether the candidate is a good fit. Someone who is avoidant, for example, might not be a good mix on a team with assertive people who will quickly override that team member in any conflict.

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