Conflict Management … or What do you do when Change is nigh?

Conflict Management … or What do you do when Change is nigh?

Bringing change to your workplace or your business can create conflict. Why? Because people are creatures of habit and, as a result, tend to resist change. Tell people that there are changes in the offing, and you’ll notice an immediate shift in tension levels, usually in a negative direction. Tell people that those changes are being imposed without consultation, and there can be trouble in the woods!

In situations where change is required, it’s important to understand this almost inevitable reaction as a way of working with the relevant stakeholders who will be impacted. It is fundamental to understand and know how you will deal with stakeholders’ concerns.

Very often underneath the irritation or anger is fear. Not knowing how that change will impact on you, your team or your colleagues, sets up the tension between the known and unknown. Fear is often the underlying cause of resistance to change.


The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Handling Model is a great tool that is not only applicable in a business context, but can also be transposed into personal situations. It defines conflict as a collision of two dimensions, expressed in graph form:



  1. The Assertive Axis – me looking after my own concerns

  2. The Co-operative Axis – looking out for others people’s concerns.







The further along each axis you travel, the greater the degree of Assertiveness or Co-operation involved in your response to the conflict situation.

Within this model, there are five areas or states. No state is better or worse than the others. They are basically states you can use by saying to yourself – What is the best situation that you can use in ‘X’ moment?


  1. Avoidance – this is low on both assertion and co-operation. Does what it says on the tin - you duck the issue. However, this can be a positive or a negative ducking.  Let’s imagine that Betty from HR is bearing down on you along the corridor, ready to verbally beat you up regarding the change you suggested at the last meeting.  If at this point you shoot into the loo to hide, you’ve just practised avoidance - negatively. You’ve not taken the matter forward in any way, and it’s still left to be dealt with.


However, there is a more positive way of using avoidance: you let Betty pounce and then you respond with constructive avoidance - avoidance rooted in a legitimate reason. You say something like,  ‘Ok Betty, I hear what you are saying, but I really haven’t got time to speak with you now, can we talk tomorrow? I’m free at 11am.’ You’ve still avoided the issue for the time being, but you’ve arranged for it to be met with later.


  1. Accommodating – this is high on co-operation and low on assertion, and always involves some element of self-sacrifice. However, it too has a positive use.  By giving way to the other person’s concerns, it’s possible to score some brownie points, or it can be used as an investment for later use in gaining co-operation. The downside is that if as a leader or team manager, you are seen as constantly caving in, the team would soon lose respect for you, and you for yourself.
  2. Compromise – This is a midway point, which offers some expedient, mutually acceptable solution.  The result is a partial solution - a holding place that is  often only temporary in its effect.  It’s like a plaster that you can apply for the time being, but will not hold. You’ll usually have to revisit the topic at some point in order to move it forward.

  3. Competition – This stance registers very low co-operation and high on assertiveness and has a command aspect to it. Choose to use this in urgent situations where you’re the one with the necessary or specialist knowledge that needs immediate application.  For example, if someone was having a heart attack in front of you and you were the only one who knew CPR, you’re likely to use this stance to take command and tell people what to do while you apply CPR.  Negotiation or discussion would be inappropriate in this instance, where time was of the essence.  Competing is also recognisable when we stand up for our rights or argue for a position we believe to be valid.  Using this stance as a regular default position, however, isn’t to be encouraged.

  1. Collaboration –This stance is high on both co-operation and assertion. It recognises both the other’s and your concerns and looks for a ‘win-win’ outcome.  It’s where opinions are sought, discussion take place. This, of course, takes time and would be entirely inappropriate in circumstances such as the emergency CPR situation described above, but could be of great use in starting the process of stakeholder buy-in to a proposed change, for example.

The idea behind this model is that you’re not stuck with a one-only type of response to conflict; it frees you up to adapt your response to that which you believe will be the most effective and productive in the current context. Most people recognise that they tend to occupy one of the five positions as a default. Recognising the default position you tend to take, and where and how it works and when it doesn’t, and discovering what other stances are available to you, enables you to adapt your response and be more effective when it come to handling conflict.

Released On 19th Oct 2015

  • FSB
  • Somerset Chamber of Commerce
  • Xero
  • cima
  • Automatic Enrolment
  • Sage Accountants' Club
We use cookies to give you the best possible experience. To accept cookies continue browsing, or view our privacy statement to find out more.