5 Essential Conflict Management Styles Organizational Leaders Must Know

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Co-workers in conflict argue in an office.

Leadership positions require professionals to resolve conflict in a work environment. The inevitability of conflict in an organization demands those in leadership roles to be able to identify the most common causes of workplace disagreements. According to the company Vital Learning, the most common causes of workplace conflict are work habits, conflicting personalities, a toxic work environment, lack of communication, uncertainty about job expectations and resistance to change. A CareerBuilder.com study found that 58% of professionals in leadership positions felt that they hadn’t received the necessary training to effectively lead members of their teams. To be successful, professionals in these positions should learn the five conflict management styles that can diffuse conflict-related issues and when to use them.

The Need for Effective Conflict Management

Organizations are made up of employees from different backgrounds, which can cause conflict related to different values, interests, personalities and personal challenges.

In certain cases, these differences in cultural or political background, for example, might hinder a collaborative work environment, which can cause conflict. In another case, an employee might put their own professional interests above the organization’s general welfare, causing resentment between co-workers.

Contention in the workplace can also occur between extroverts and introverts. Extroverts may find that engaging with their introverted co-workers feels forced, while introverts may feel imposed on by their more outgoing peers. Successful leaders must foster clear lines of communication between introverted and extroverted employees to create a cohesive environment that bolsters productivity.

Those in leadership positions must also be empathetic to employees’ personal issues, which can affect team synergy. Successful leaders create a work atmosphere in which it’s safe to express personal concerns, which allows them to develop resolutions that ensure these issues do not affect productivity. If left to escalate, they can inflict financial and reputational damage, which can significantly impede short-term and long-term growth.

A psychologically toxic work environment can affect team performance and productivity. According to a Harvard Business School study, a toxic employee can cost an organization as much as $12,000. Toxic employees exhibit behavior that disrupts the flow of work within an organization, such as demanding others to do extra work or making co-workers uncomfortable. They are costly to an organization, because their behavior drives out talented employees in search of other job opportunities.

According to Forbes, the price of replacing entry-level employees is 50% of their salary, and replacing midlevel employees costs as much as 125% of their salary. Turnover also negatively affects an organization’s overall product or service, which can damage a company’s reputation and eventually drive clients to pursue competitors’ services.

What Are the 5 Conflict Management Styles?

Renowned psychologists Dr. Kenneth W. Thomas and Dr. Ralph H. Kilmann developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), a system of conflict management styles to help those in leadership positions resolve discord between employees and conduct constructive discourse.

According to Kilmann and Thomas, the TKI categorizes individual behavior into two dimensions of behavior — assertive and cooperative — that can be used to understand the five different modes of conflict resolution.

  • Collaborating: An assertive and cooperative mode of conflict resolution, collaborating requires employees to implement objective reasoning to come to a resolution that is beneficial to all parties. Those involved must be willing to empathize with the opposing party’s wants and needs.
  • Competing: Competition between employees can be destructive when employees place their professional goals before the organization’s goals. Competing is an assertive and uncooperative mode of conflict resolution that is detrimental to a collaborative work environment.
  • Compromising: Another assertive and cooperative mode of conflict resolution, compromising means employees are able to resolve issues and come to resolutions that are beneficial to all parties.
  • Accommodating: When an employee accommodates another co-worker’s needs, they overlook their own. This unassertive behavior breaks down a collaborative work environment.
  • Avoiding: Avoidance produces a stalemate between co-workers and leads to the deterioration of common goals. This uncooperative behavior breaks down communication and affects an organization’s growth.

The Essential Skills for Effective Conflict Management

Effective leaders encourage employees to recognize how their individual strengths contribute to a shared vision that helps an organization reach its goals and sustain productive synergy. Those in leadership positions must also be able to effectively communicate with employees to express organizational goals and detail what they expect from each team member. Critical thinking allows leaders to develop innovative approaches to deal with intraorganizational conflict.

Those interested in improving their conflict resolution skills should explore Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership, which provides students with a curriculum that focuses on organizational efficiency, helping them to understand different leadership styles. Furthermore, the program’s Developing People and Organization concentration provides students with the analytical skills needed to implement a variety of conflict management styles to address issues in organizations.

Establish a Rewarding Career by Pursuing an Advanced Degree in Organizational Leadership

An advanced degree in organizational leadership provides students with the necessary skill set to prepare them for professional leadership roles and equips them with the fundamental curriculum to become future thought leaders in their chosen fields. An MA in Organizational Leadership from Rider University provides the competencies to quickly identify and resolve the causes of conflict in an organization. Discover how Rider University’s online MA in Organizational Leadership can prepare students to become dynamic professional leaders.

Recommended Readings:

Project Manager Salary and Job Description: A Key Organizational Leadership Career

Understanding the Core Leadership Models in Organizations

Five Key Traits of a Leader


Bizfluent, “Negative Effects of Conflict Within an Organization”

Forbes, “10 Shocking Workplace Stats You Need to Know”

Forbes, “Companies Need to Know the Dollar Cost of Employee Turnover”

Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Benefits of Good Conflict Resolution Skills?”

Houston Chronicle, “What Causes Conflict Between Employees in an Organization?”

Inc., “Harvard Research Proves Toxic Employees Destroy Your Culture and Your Bottom Line”

Klinman Diagnostics, “Learn All About the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)”

The Myers-Briggs Company, “Understanding Conflict Resolution Styles”

Rider University, Online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership

Vital Learning, “6 Common Causes of Workplace Conflict and How to Avoid Them”

Workopolis, “The 13 Traits of Amazing Managers”