Blogs By
Ralph H. Kilmann

Addressing the four timeless topics: conflict,
change, consciousness, and transformation

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ian Mitroff and I developed a systematic methodology for uncovering -- and then revising -- the hidden assumptions behind decisions and actions. This same methodology can provide new ways of thinking about and then choosing the right conflict mode for a given situation....

The immediate benefit of taking the TKI and reviewing your results (which includes a personalized report with the online version of the assessment) is AWARENESS: You learn which conflict modes you might be using too much (usually out of habit) and which ones you might be using too little (since you have not been exposed to the many positive uses of your underutilized modes)....

In the 1960s, three instruments assessed the five conflict modes: Blake and Mouton (1964), Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), and Hall (1969). So why did Ken Thomas and I develop a fourth instrument to measure conflict-handling behavior? In the early 1970s, both Ken and I were acutely aware of the potential social desirability response bias in all self-report assessments: The tendency for people to respond to test items in order to look good to themselves or others (whether this bias is conscious or unconscious) versus accurately disclosing their actual behavior or interests....

I’d like to explore a rather atypical application of the TKI model, one that often gets overlooked. Indeed, we have a tendency to focus on conflict “out there” (interpersonal or workplace conflict), but not conflict “in here” (intrapersonal conflict or what has been called inter-psychic conflict). But those same five conflict modes can be used to examine how a person addresses incompatible needs and goals of different parts of the inner self....

Every member in an organization can be viewed as a problem manager, the nature of which can be usefully categorized into five steps: (1) sensing problems (noting if a gap exists between “what is” and “what could or should be” breaks a threshold of acceptability), (2) defining problems (uncovering the root cause of the gap), (3) deriving solutions (ways and means to close the gap), (4) implementing solutions (putting the chosen solution to effective use in a living, breathing organization), and (5) evaluating outcomes (re-assessing if the gap is still beyond a threshold of acceptability and, if it is, determining...

Instead of asking members to respond to the thirty items in general terms, I provide these modified instructions: “IN THIS ORGANIZATION, when you find your wishes differing from those of another person, how do you usually respond?” As a second TKI assessment, I ask the same people to respond to these different instructions: “OUTSIDE THIS ORGANIZATION, when you find your wishes differing from those of another person, how do you usually respond?”...

There are test-retest guidelines when validating any assessment tool: Given the nature of the theory behind the construct, do you expect the construct to be rather stable over time (such as an enduring personality trait) or do you expect it to change in the short run (such as a behavioral choice in a conflict situation)? In terms of the TKI, since this assessment claims to measure behavioral choices (whether conscious or not), test-retest correlations are not expected to be stable in the long run, especially when people are subjected to conflict awareness training and other educational experiences that expose them...

Competing, accommodating, and compromising all fall on the distributive dimension -- on the diagonal from the upper-left mode to the lower-right mode on the TKI conflict model. The common feature with these three modes is their zero-sum, win/lose nature: The more you get, the less I get (and vice versa), since the size of the pie is fixed. Essentially, we slide up and down the seesaw on the distributive dimension, deciding how to distribute the available pieces of that fixed pie....

Even if you choose to avoid for the right reasons, does it make a difference what you actually say to people just before you withdraw from the situation? One person might avoid a conflict by expressing himself this way: “I’ve had enough of this nonsense! I’m not going to waste any more of my time. I’m out of here.” Another person may take this approach: “I’ve just realized that I need more time to think about this topic and to discuss these issues with my colleagues. It’s starting to overwhelm me.  Let’s set up another meeting for next week. By...