Start with two people from different cultures and both with strong personalities. Now add some old habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of blended-family life. Guess what? You are bound to have conflict. It’s unavoidable. In the first year we were married, three times my wife, Anita, packed up her car with her kids, her dogs and some clothes and left for one of the houses we were trying to sell. Each time she was gone for at least two days. I was glad she left…….for about 30 minutes, then I wanted her back! But she wasn’t ready to come back.
So how do you address conflicts with your partner? Two weeks ago I was introduced to a model of conflict style management. It is called the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, and it helped me to understand why my wife and I struggled with conflict management in the beginning of our marriage. It can also be used in the workplace.
Conflict is a form of friction or disagreement. It happens on the job, within groups in our society, within families, and in our personal relationships. It is a fact of personal and organizational life. At the workplace, conflict can be caused by misunderstanding, personality clashes, substandard performance, lack of cooperation, stress, or time pressure. Some people are not in favor of it and they see conflict as negative and disruptive, while others see it as an opportunity to sharpen their self identities by clarifying wants, thoughts, and feelings.
According to the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument there are five conflict styles:
Accommodation is where one cooperates to a higher degree and completely avoids conflict, saying, in essence, “Whatever you want is fine with me.” Accommodation means that you are willing to give up just about anything in order to preserve the relationship with the other party. This can lead to situations where others who depend on you may feel you do not “go to bat” for them. You could practice being assertive by saying, “My needs are not being met.”
Avoiding is based on the motto “I will think about that tomorrow.” It is a style of conflict that is characterized by behaviors that either ignore or refuse to engage in conflict. It is useful in short term relationships, when the issue is not important, or when the situation has the potential to escalate towards violence. The drawbacks are that the conflict may not disappear and that you may be seen as ineffective or incompetent if you habitually avoid conflicts.
Collaborating means, “Let us work together to find the best solution for both of us.” Each party gets their goals met and the relationship is maintained. This takes more time than the other approaches in short run, but the long term benefits are worth the effort.
Competing (or the win/lose approach) may be appropriate for emergencies when time is of the essence, or when you need quick, decisive action, mainly when people are aware of and support the approach.
Compromising is a giving and taking of resources. This requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation. It is great for scenarios where you need a temporary solution, or where both sides have equally important goals.
Conflict can be a catalyst for change when managed in the right way. Communication scholars strongly believe that conflict is an inevitable process and a normal part of life. Actions and choices are required forms of communication to resolve conflicts.
Not unsurprisingly I learnt that my form of conflict management is highly competing whereas my wife’s is conflict avoidant. I want to resolve everything NOW, kiss and make up, and move on with life. Anita needs to have time to process, cool off and choose the right words to carefully address the issue.

Over the last few years the length of time she needs to cool off has reduced and the length of time I realize I need to give her has increased – it also helps that we sold the other house so she has nowhere to run to! We still have conflicts, but we are able to resolve things more quickly and in a much more structured fashion because we now not only understand each other’s conflict management style, but also understand our own!