Style Matters v Thomas Kilmann


Category: Assessments

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This exciting new inventory shows users their preferred style of conflict management and provides detailed suggestions for each style.

What is a Conflict Style Inventory?

A conflict style inventory is a tool developed to measure an individual's response to conflict situations. This essay reviews several inventories, and compares two of the most commonly used ones, the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and the Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory.

A number of conflict style inventories have been in active use since the 1960s. Most of them are based on the managerial grid developed by Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton in their Managerial Grid Model.

The Blake and Mouton model uses two axis. 'Concern for people' is plotted using the vertical axis and 'Concern for task' along the horizontal axis. Each axis has a numerical scale of 1 to 9. These axes interact so as to diagram five different styles of management. This grid posits the interaction of task versus relationship and shows that according to how people value these, there are five basic ways of interacting with others.

An early conflict style inventory that was based on this grid was Jay Hall's Conflict Management Survey (Teleometrics International, Inc., The Woodlands, TX, 1973)

Soon thereafter came Kenneth W.Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann with their Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Tuxedo NY: Xicom, 1974). The TKI, as it is sometimes known, put conflict style inventories "on the map" and according to the publisher's website, there are over five million copies published.

The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument uses the Mouton and Blake axes, and identifies five different styles of conflict: Forcing, Avoiding, Accommodating, Collaborating, Compromising.

Strengths: The TKI is quick to administer and interpret. It takes about 15 minutes to answer the questions, and an hour or so for interpretation by a trainer. Modest interpretation materials are contained in the test booklet helping users identify appropriate use of the styles and to help them become more comfortable with styles they are less familiar with. The TKI is widely known and is available in English, French, and Spanish versions.

Weaknesses:The TKI is a forced choice questionnaire, which some users find frustrating. It assumes that all users have similar cultural background. Some trainers report frustration among users from minority backgrounds or in use outside the United States. Its interpretation materials are not extensive.

The Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory was developed in the 1980s by Ron Kraybill, then director of the Mennonite Conciliation Service, a pioneer in the field of conflict resolution. Like the widely-used Thomas Kilmann inventory, it is based on the Mouton-Blake Managerial Grid and identifies five styles of responding to conflict, calling them Directing, Harmonizing, Avoiding, Cooperating, and Compromising. In its basic version it takes about 15 minutes to take and one to three hours to interpret. 

The KCSI has several features not found in the TKI. One is that it gives users two sets of scores, one for 'calm' conditions and one for 'storm', recognising that many people's style shifts under high stress.  For example, some people who are high in Directing behaviors in the beginning of a conflict shift into Avoiding as stress mounts. Others may shift from Avoiding to Directing, etc. 

A noteworthy feature of the KCSI is that it  has a feature making it culturally sensitive. Users are instructed to identify whether they are from an individualistic (eg: typically, white, Anglo North American) or collectivistic (eg: black, Hispanic, indigenous) culture, and are given slightly differing instructions accordingly.

Strengths: Like the TKI, the KCSI is quick to administer and interpret. Questions are multiple choice which many users seem to prefer. In addition to the features described above, the KCSI has extensive interpretation pages. These include a "Hot Tips" section with many tips for maximizing effectiveness of each style in managing self or responding to others. Two pages of questions for group discussion make it well-suited for training purposes. Because it is built around the Mouton-Blake axis that is also the basis for the widely-known Thomas Kilmann, the KCSI has a familiar feel for many trainers.

The 24 page booklet includes both the inventory and guidance in working with differing styles. The supporting website includes a free and detailed trainer's guide.

Attribute name Attribute value
FORMAT Assessment
OBJECTIVE To show users their preferred style of conflict management
AUDIENCE All organisational members
TIME REQUIRED 15 minutes
AUTHOR Ron Kraybill Ph.D.