To better understand and thereby hopefully resolve the immense conflicts that are at the heart of all of the thorny issues with which we are struggling we use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Framework. The key ingredient is Compromise. While all the parties to a conflict may not get all that they want, Compromise is absolutely essential to preserving whatever group harmony and cohesion is possible.
My good friend and life-long colleague Ralph H. Kilmann, and his collaborator Ken Thomas, have developed the most comprehensive approach to the management of Conflict which I know. It shows in no uncertain terms the Psychological processes that need to be mastered if one is not just to be able to work together productively, but more importantly, to live together harmoniously. It thus adds a needed component to our deeper understanding of human behavior.
Two dimensions are key to the Kilmann-Thomas framework. They are best understood in terms of a pie. The first deals with how much of a pie a person wants to have solely for him, herself, or they. The second deals with how much of the pie one is willing to give to another. The first dimension is thus best captured by the catchphrase “Get,” and the second as “Give.”
Whatever the issue, if one always strives to “get the whole pie solely for oneself,” then one’s Conflict Handling Style is Competing. If on the other hand, “one habitually gives the pie to another,” then one is Accommodating. If both parties strive to avoid a Conflict situation altogether, and hence neither one of them gets any of the pie, then they are Avoiders. If both parties are satisfied with half of the pie, then they are Compromisers. Finally, if both parties are willing to work together as Collaborators, then in principle they can expand the pie such that both get a full one.
Notice how each of these plays a key role in making important decisions. If one party is clearly an expert in a critical area, then Accommodating her, him, or they are not only appropriate but best. By the same token, the party who is an expert in a particular area is justified in asserting their position, and thus in being Competitive. If in comparison to other issues the particular one is not important, then Avoiding is called for. Compromise is appropriate if that’s the best one can get, and further if it preserves “group cohesiveness.” And while it often takes the most time and energy to achieve, Collaborating is best of all because it results in a “win-win” for all parties.
Notice that not only are these descriptions of their key attributes but of the main arguments upon which each of their positions rests. So once again, it all boils down to arguments. Covid 19 is the premiere case in point, requiring that one defer and thus Accommodate the expertise of those more knowledgeable and qualified.
Ideally, one would have the ability to enact all five conflict modes: Competing, Accommodating, Avoiding, Compromising, and Collaborating. Depending on the particular situation, one is then able to respond appropriately.
If this were the case, then the four Myers-Briggs Personality Types would be able to work together harmoniously. Indeed, it’s an essential requirement for their being able to do so.
Importantly, notice how they are affected by their states of mind. Take Paranoia. In this case, one distrusts all others so that the Conflict Modes collapse into Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Fight if one feels that there is no alternative but to assert one’s position. Parenthetically, it does not necessarily mean fighting physically, but verbally. Flight if one feels threatened and has to leave a situation at all costs. Freeze if one feels paralyzed and literally unable to move.
In the end, the prime issue is what’s more important, winning or preserving group harmony? Compromising is as much about living together amicably as it’s about resolving key issues. Indeed, one is not possible without the other.
Just when we need it more than ever, Compromise is more elusive than ever.
Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a Ph.D. in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He has published 41 books including The Socially Responsible Organization.
By Ian I. Mitroff