How Can I Build a Team? The TKI

All leaders deal with conflict, and having the right tools in your toolbox can make a big difference. 

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is a great tool to add.

What is the TKI?

The TKI is a short survey of 30 paired responses about how you deal with situational conflict.  It plots individuals on a grid of both assertiveness and cooperation, and groups people’s responses into five general categories.

Imagine Cooperation as the x-axis with uncooperative on the left, and cooperative on the right.  Assertiveness is the y-axis, with unassertive at the bottom and very assertive at the top.  The five groupings are:

  • Competing (uncooperative + assertive)
  • Collaborating (cooperative + assertive)
  • Compromising (mid-range on both scales)
  • Avoiding (uncooperative + unassertive)
  • Accommodating (cooperative + unassertive)

Understanding 5 Conflict Modes

We hear so much about the value of “collaborative leadership” that it is easy to believe that being categorized as Collaborating is the highest goal for leaders.  But the creators of the TKI don’t believe that to be true.  

One of the values of working with the TKI is that the instrument stresses the importance of being able to use all five of these ways of managing conflict.  All of them are useful and needed at different times in our lives and careers.  When you spend time with the TKI, you don’t just learn about your typical response to conflict, you learn to discern what sort of conflict you are dealing with at a particular moment, and which response would be most helpful.  

If you take the TKI individually, you can practice understanding the conflict situations in your work and life, and consciously choose different modes to deal with these conflicts.  The TKI is exponentially more powerful when taken by couples, teams, and staffs.  When a group that normally interacts together all have a shared basis of understanding about these five modes of dealing with conflict, what different member’s default positions are, and when each mode is most helpful, it can really change your group’s ability to get things done, be successful, and enjoy working together.  

When to use Competing Mode

When you are in Competing mode around a conflict, you are being quite assertive and not interested in cooperation.  That sounds like a generally unpleasant person to work with, doesn’t it?  And yet, there are times when taking a Competitive stance is just right for the situation or work.  

Competing is a great strategy to use when you have more relevant information than others in the group.  When you notice a fire, you use the Competing mode to be assertive, get your own way, and get everyone out of danger.  

When to use Collaborating

Most resumes and LinkedIn accounts include Collaborative Leadership in their profiles.  True collaboration happens when people are both highly assertive and highly cooperative.  True collaborative decisions require a culture of trust, good communication skills, and plenty of time.  

Collaborating is a great mode to use when working on long-term projects that are not particularly time sensitive.  It’s a terrible mode to attempt to use if there is a fire in a room full of strangers.  And, truth be told, there are many workplaces where true collaboration can not take place because there is not a solid foundation of trust.  People must be in right relationship with one another to fully work collaboratively.  

When to use Compromising

Compromising, not surprisingly, is smack dab in the middle of the TKI quadrants.  When you’re in a Compromising mode, you are about in the middle on assertiveness and about in the middle for cooperation.  

In Compromise, everyone gets something but no one gets everything they want.  The best time to use Compromise is when you need a quick fix and the stakes aren’t very high.  When your family is on the road, you are all hungry and you just need to find a place to eat before you get to hangry, use Compromise.  

When something really, really matters to you or when you’ve got more vital information than others in the group, don’t go into Compromise mode.  

When to use Avoiding

For many of us, our knee jerk reaction is that avoidance is bad.  But in reality, that’s not true.  Wise and judicious use of avoiding is an important skill for managers, staff, and family members to all use.

In Avoidance, we have low assertiveness and low cooperation.  No ones’ need get met.  The conflict just sits there and doesn’t get dealt with.  

Important times to use Avoidance are when emotions are too high, and the item is not urgent.  Other times it is good to use Avoidance are if you don’t yet have all the information you need to make a wise decision, or when all the necessary voices are not yet in the room.  (You should definitely NOT use Avoidance if you notice a fire in the room.)

When to use Accommodating

We are in Accommodating mode when we are not assertive but we are highly cooperative.  When we’re in Accommodating mode, only the other people’s needs are met.  If someone yells “Fire” we should click into Accommodating mode and get out of the building.

Accommodating is a great mode to use when the agenda item isn’t of high-value to you.  Accommodating can help move things along.  At times, one party who has been competing, collaborating or compromising will decide they’ve worked enough on this issue and switch into accommodating mode in order to finish this topic and move onto other things.  

When your spouse or your kids or your coworker or your boss are really invested in an outcome that doesn’t much matter to you, use Accommodating mode.  Cheerfully give them the win.

Interested in Learning More?

I am certified in TKI Advanced Training, and I would love to talk with you about using this instrument for your work group, family or individually.  Contact me and let’s talk!

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