Every one of your employees use strategies to navigate workplace conflict. But not all conflict resolution strategies are healthy or productive. Choosing the right strategy is key to your team’s ability to work together.

Finding the Right Conflict Resolution Strategy for the Moment

The Thomas-Kilmann model of conflict management sorts all conflict responses into five categories measured according to the person’s assertiveness and cooperativeness. Each category has its benefits and drawbacks within an employment setting.

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1.     Conflict Avoidance

When employees avoid conflict, they ignore the issue until it goes away. Avoidant employees don’t pursue their own goals, but they don’t help others either.

When It Works

Conflict avoidance rarely resolves workplace conflict. When it does, it is generally because the conflict is trivial, or the employee simply needs space.

When It Doesn’t

Conflict avoidance can arise when employees see no chance of winning. In an emotionally charged atmosphere employees avoid conflict to prevent things from getting worse. This leaves grudges unspoken and affects employees’ ability to work together over time.

2.     Accommodation

Accommodating employees go out of their way to work with the rest of their team, even at the expense of their own goals. They are generally out to satisfy another’s needs more than one’s own.

When It Works

Accommodation can be appropriate when working with experts, or in response to supervisors’ requests. It is also a useful to preserve future relationships with an important stakeholder or highly valued client.

When It Doesn’t

Accommodation doesn’t work in the long-term. Because employees sacrifice their own goals, they may burn out if they feel their own perspectives are never addressed.

3.     Compromise

In a compromise situation, each party involved balances their assertiveness and cooperation to meet in the middle. An employee that relies on compromise will be willing to give a little to get something important to them.

When It Works

Compromise can be an effective conflict resolution strategy when used as a temporary solution, or in connection with other strategies. However it is important for everyone to feel like they get something out of the deal.

When It Doesn’t

Unfortunately, in a compromise each person must also give something up, leaving everyone only partially satisfied. Power dynamics within a team can mean that some workers give more than they get, and this can create resentment or additional conflict in the future.

4.     Competition

An employee looking to compete assertively tries to satisfy their own desires without considering how it will affect others. Competition creates a workplace environment where each employee is looking out for themselves as individuals, rather than working as part of a team.

When It Works

When team members each work independently – such as sales managers – competition can drive team members to be more productive. A competitive conflict resolution approach can also be useful for managers or team leaders who need to respond to emergencies with decisive action, and when time is of the essence.

When It Doesn’t

Competition can be toxic. When employees need to work together, putting themselves above others can interfere with progress. Competition also creates a more emotionally charged workplace, which can create much larger conflict than with other approaches.

5.     Collaboration

A collaborative conflict resolution strategy pairs high assertiveness with high cooperation. It involves showing respect and sympathy to get consensus and buy in from others.

When It Works

Collaboration is the best conflict resolution strategy for most team-based employment situations. It works well in resolving complex scenarios and allows teams to reframe the challenge to make space for everybody’s ideas.

When It Doesn’t

Collaboration requires a high degree of trust among teammates. When emotions are high, it can be difficult to get everyone to buy in to a solution. Also, reaching consensus can take a lot of time and effort. When a team needs to move quickly, competition and accommodation may work better.

Work With a Conflict Resolution Specialist to Bring an End to the Conflict

Knowing the right conflict resolution strategy for the moment takes awareness of employees’ relationships and assessment of the situation. It isn’t natural for everyone A knowledgeable conflict resolution specialist can help the parties get to the root cause of the conflict and facilitate its resolution. The result is that the relationship is strengthened and the newfound ability to work closely together enhances the organization’s functioning by significantly increasing its health.


David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping teams resolve workplace conflict.  Contact us to meet with David and start your company’s strategic growth plan today.