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One Theory and Five Styles of Conflict Management

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

A close reading of the New Testament reveals that conflict was very much a part of the early church. The twin pillars of Peter and Paul openly conflicted on important issues. It is not surprising that the icon most commonly used to depict them together shows them to be in a common embrace, representing reconciliation and unity within the church.

Nevertheless, conflict remains very much present in every parish today. Conflict is endemic to all human associations and interactions. A consequence of fallen human nature – it remains a part of the human condition. Theologians say, “The Kingdom of God is established on earth through the saving actions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the Kingdom of God is not yet fully established on earth.”

What is possible, however, is to transform conflict into opportunities for personal and parochial spiritual growth. If we learn from conflict and if we grow as a result of resolving conflict, then the Kingdom of God is extended upon the earth. Offered below is one theory five styles for how to resolve conflict. It may be wise to utilize some assistance in managing or resolving conflict, for by its very nature, it is blinding and distortive.

There also are obvious benefits to resolving conflict:

  • Increased understanding: successful conflict resolution expands people’s awareness, giving insight into how goals may be achieved without undermining the concerns of other people.

  • Increased community cohesion: when conflict is resolved effectively, deeper mutual respect ensues, and a renewed faith in an ability to work together is discovered.

  • Improved self-knowledge: conflict pushes people to examine their motives and goals in close detail, helping them understand why certain things matter to them with the possibility of increasing their commitment and effectiveness.

However, if conflict is not handled effectively, the results can be damaging. Conflicting goals can quickly turn into personal dislike. Community cohesion breaks down. Time, talent and resources are wasted as people disengage from parish life and in worse case scenarios the parish ends up in a vicious downward spiral of negativity and recrimination.

To continue to manage the parish effectively, it is necessary to halt a downward spiral as soon as possible.

The Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann theory and method of conflict management.

In the 1970’s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. They argued that people typically have a preferred conflict resolution style. However they also noted that different styles were more useful in different situations. They developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) which helps to identify which style a person tends towards when conflict arises. Here is the model:

The Five Styles:

1) Competitive

People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. This style can be useful when there is an emergency and a decision needs to be made quickly. However, it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.

2) Collaborative

People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when there is a need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution, e.g., when there have been previous conflicts in the group or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

3) Compromising

People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.

4) Accommodating

This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The one whose default mode is accommodation often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party or when peace is more valuable than winning. However, overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcome.

5) Avoiding

People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.

Once one understands the different styles then the most appropriate approach can be utilized for each situation. A person becomes aware of their own default mode of conflict resolution and can work to adjust this as is necessary.


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