5 Ways to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict in the workplace

Westend61 / Getty Images

Many people head in the opposite direction when they spot conflict in the workplace. But if you’re a manager that's a mistake. Conflict can be healthy or unhealthy, but either way, it merits your attention. 

The healthy conflict focuses on differences of opinion regarding tasks or work-related activities. It can be leveraged and facilitated for gain.

Unhealthy conflict is a kind that gets personal. It must be extinguished immediately or it jeopardizes the work environment. 

5 Styles of Conflict Management: 

The research work of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in the 1970s led to the identification of five styles of conflict and the development of a widely used self-assessment called the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, or TKI.

Their work suggested that we all have a preferred way to deal with conflict which serves us well in some situations, but not all. The key to success is to develop a flexible toolkit of conflict management approaches and use the one that best fits the situation.

The more you can get comfortable with each way of dealing with conflict, the more effective you will be.


In the collaborative approach, the manager works with the people involved to develop a win-win solution. The focus on finding a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

This style is appropriate when:

  • The situation is not urgent
  • An important decision needs to be made
  • The conflict involves many people or a number of people across teams
  • Previous conflict resolution attempts have failed

This style is not appropriate when:

  • A decision needs to be made urgently
  • The matter is trivial to all involved


With a competitive approach, the person who takes the firmest stand wins. This style is often seen as aggressive and can be the cause of others in the conflict feeling taken advantage of.

Nevertheless, this style is appropriate when:

  • A decision needs to be made quickly
  • An unpopular decision needs to be made
  • Someone is trying to take advantage of a situation

This style is not appropriate when:

  • People are feeling sensitive about the issue
  • The situation is not urgent
  • Buy-in is important


With the compromising approach, each person gives up something that contributes towards conflict resolution.

This style is appropriate when:

  • A decision needs to be made sooner rather than later
  • Resolving the conflict is more important than having each individual win
  • Power among the people in the conflict is equal

This style is not appropriate when:

  • A variety of important needs must be met
  • The situation is extremely urgent
  • One person holds more power than another


The accommodating style is one of the most passive conflict resolution methods. One of the individuals gives in so that the other person can get what they want. As a rule, this style is not very effective, but it is appropriate in certain scenarios:

  • Maintaining the relationship is more important than winning
  • The issue at hand is very important to only one person

This style is not appropriate when:

  • It will not permanently solve the problem


The last approach is to avoid the conflict entirely. People who use this style tend to accept decisions without question, avoid confrontation, and delegate difficult decisions and tasks. Avoiding is another passive approach that is typically not effective, but it has its uses.

This style is appropriate when:

  • The issue is trivial
  • The conflict will resolve itself on its own soon

This style is not appropriate when:

  • The issue is important to you or your team
  • The conflict will grow worse without attention

The Bottom Line

There is no right or wrong style of conflict resolution. Each has its time and place. Learn how to use all five and you’ll be much more effective. As a manager, learn to suggest different approaches based on these five styles when striving to defuse conflict.