Using Each Conflict Style

Why We Use Each Conflict Style

The five conflict styles, competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, and compromising, each have relevance for certain situations and individuals, and include factors such as time, relationships, and complexity.

One way to interpret the the respective styles is using the following two formulas: 

Importance on Issue = Concern for “Self”

Importance on Relationship = Concern for “Other” 

For example, in the “accommodating” style, concern for self and other may be low or non-existent.  A person may place no importance on the conflict and choose to withdraw from the situation gracefully, wait until a later time to address the conflict, or simply ignore the conflict altogether. 

So, when might it be appropriate to use one particular style over another?   

What are the intersection points between concern for self and concern for others?  

Are there any styles that should never be used? 

The following video discusses the Conflict Styles and the difference between styles that promote “win/win” solutions, and those that do not. 


Whose Needs Get Met?
Accommodating and Avoiding

In the blog post “The Distinction Between Accommodating and Avoiding,” Ralph Kilmann discusses key differences between the accommodating style and the avoiding style.  You can read the full blog post here:

The Distinction Between Accommodating and Avoiding (click to read full article).


Key takeaway: Its all about who’s needs get met.

Accommodating occurs when your behavior results in the other person’s needs being met, while your needs are not met at all.  Using the phrase from the Youtube video above, the accommodating style essentially conveys the message, “At your service, not mine.”

Avoiding occurs when neither your nor the other person’s needs get met.  Using the phrase form the Youtube video above, the avoiding style essentially conveys the message, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”  (or not at all). 

There are three different perspectives that can be used to interpret which conflict style might be used for a particular purpose: intention, behavior, and outcome.  Kilman suggests that intentions and behaviors are difficult to use when interpreting the use of a particular conflict style, because intention and behavior are difficult to determine and can be complex depending on the situation. 

Outcomes of the conflict situation, defined as meeting needs of the self and needs of the other, are the best indicators of a conflict styles impact on a particular conflict.

Whose Needs Get Met?
Compromising and Collaborating

In the blog post “The Distinction Between Compromising and Collaborating” Ralph Kilmann discusses key differences between the compromising style and the collaborating style.  You can read the full blog post here:

The Distinction Between Compromising and Collaborating (click to read full article).


Key takeaway: Its all about who’s needs get met.

Compromising results in each person’s needs being partially met.  This is what’s called a “zero-sum” game, which means that the outcome simply “distributes” a share of the winnings.  One person’s gain is another person’s loss.   Here’s a short video to exemplify this concept:

Collaboration occurs when the needs of both self and the other are “integrated” together, in order to create options and expand the possibilities in a conflict.  This is a “non-zero-sum” situation in which everyone’s needs are met.

Here’s an example to demonstrate the difference between compromise and collaboration:


The Orange Story

Adapted from Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1981

A mother overheard her two children fighting over an orange. Both of them were trying to claim the only orange left in the fruit bowl. Tired of listening to the bickering, she marched into the kitchen, sliced the orange in half, and gave one half to each child. Thinking that she had solved the problem, she returned to the other room expecting to continue reading in peace and quiet. Much to her surprise, the children immediately began bickering again. When she returned to the kitchen, very exasperated, she demanded to know why they were unhappy; they both had an orange to eat. Her son told her he needed the orange peel of the whole orange to make the family’s favorite orange candy. Her daughter complained that half an orange would not satisfy her hunger. Now that the mother knew what interests each of the children had in the orange, she could create a better option than compromising by slicing the orange in half. She peeled both orange halves, gave the peel to her son and the fruit to her daughter. Both her children’s needs were fully satisfied.

The diagram below shows the difference between collaboration and compromising.  Compromising occurs in the green part of the diagram, where one person protects what they have, and results in a distributive outcome that is zero-sum and win/lose.  The orange part of the diagram shows the integrative dimension on a conflict, in which everyone’s needs are considered and both sides collaborate to identify win-win solutions to the conflict.

In the orange story, the mother initially creates a distributive outcome (the green portion of the diagram),  which distributes the orange without considering underlying needs.  Once the mother realizes the underlying needs, she’s able to create an integrative solution (the orange part of the diagram), which satisfies both children’s needs.

Putting It All Together