It was a sleepless night. I wished I hadn’t read that email just before I turned my phone off to head to bed. All it did was fire up the burning issue, the yet to be resolved conflict with an electrical supplier. Like a light bulb, the electrical circuit of my brain lit up into over-thinking each word, and every sentence. My mind as choppy as a stormy sea made it impossible to switch off and relax.

It was already 10pm and I thought I’d be ok once I hit the sack, but sadly I couldn’t quite switch off. The smallest noise fired up my mind again until I spent the night watching the hours go by 11pm, 12pm, 1am, 2am, going over and over the situation, the facts, the conversations and finally the feelings.

Get the picture?

Now it was 2am. I got up, made a cup of tea realising that sleep was going to be on the back burner tonight.
I knew the problem wouldn’t be solved from the place I was in and by morning I’d have a different perspective.
I sought a fair and equitable resolution. I tried putting myself in their shoes to see things from their viewpoint and hoped they could see mine, but I felt they hadn’t heard or understood what I was saying.

Part of me wanted to blame them and part of me knew I had a role to play in this.

Luckily for me, I am wired to discern the learning from the situation, so I started to think of all the things I was grateful for in this situation.

Then, I thought about and journaled the things I was learning from this situation, observing what it’s doing to my sense of well-being and joy. I thought about what would bring peace. And importantly, what was the trigger, the core issue hiding beneath the surface?

Judge Judy
It had happened fast. In just a few days, we were locked in a battle – both parties standing resolute. Neither willing to surrender or offer defeat.
I imagined taking this to court for a ‘Judge Judy’ to mediate. Then I started thinking about how a judge would approach this situation – first determining what was the intent of each party and then on to the facts of the matter.
That unleashed another ‘aha’ moment of truth – it became obvious that we are both at fault. The solution would be either that we both compromise, or even better, we collaborate until we find the solution that we can mutually agree on.

And that led to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model.

I knew what I needed to do.

Thomas-Kilmann Model
This model advocates there are 5 ways we typically respond to conflict – avoiding, accommodating, competing, collaborating and compromising.

Depending on this situation, each one has its place and is useful. For example; in an emergency or a crisis, we might find that we need take charge and be decisive, using our positional power to make things happen. In another scenario, we may decide that the best action is to simply walk away from the conflict because we decide it’s not important.

Discerning what is the best strategy is dependent on the situation we are faced with and I have observed there are no shortage of conflict situations in the workplace (or life for that matter)!

That’s what makes it fun and that’s where the leadership learning opportunity kicks in – becoming more self-aware of our thinking, behaviours and triggers, embracing stress release practises like mindfulness and whilst we may have a pre-dominance to one or two styles, the truth is we are capable of using and developing all styles.

The 5 styles are mapped against two axes’:
1. Assertiveness – the extent to which an individual attempts to satisfy their concerns.
2. Cooperativeness – the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy the other persons concerns.

The 5 Styles
Let’s look a little more closely on the styles:

Avoidance is low assertiveness and low co-cooperativeness. It’s the lose/lose quadrant where we side step issues, walk away or withdraw.

Accommodating is low assertiveness and high cooperativeness. It’s the I lose/you win position, where we self-sacrifice and yield to the needs of others.

Competing is high assertiveness and low cooperativeness. It’s the I win/you lose power oriented, stand your ground, get the job done, worry about the people later and the place where we defend our position.

Collaborating is the high assertiveness and high cooperativeness. It’s the win/win quadrant where we talk to the issues and each person’s needs to seek understanding and then create a solution that works for both people.

Compromising is in the middle where I win some and you win some. It’s the I’ll meet you halfway – medium assertiveness and medium cooperativeness.

Can you see yourself in these styles? I know I can!

Think back to a recent or current conflict you’ve be in and apply it to this model. Where were you coming from? Where were they coming from? What’s your natural style and what could you do differently next time?
What kind of leader do you want to be?

Maybe this tool will give you the insight you need to adopt a different strategy as you seek to find the resolution for the greater good of the team or business.

Conflict is a natural part of life. How you deal with it reveals a lot about you. I believe it is a powerful teacher that helps us transform, grow and ultimately develop our leadership capabilities when we are willing to work together for the greater good.


Jo Hutchinson MBA
Engaging Leaders @ Work ǀ Building One Team
Great Spirit NZ Ltd

Jo Hutchinson is a freelance Leadership Coach, Mentor and Facilitates Leadership Development workshops to bring out the best in people and teams. Her purpose is ‘to ignite the spark so that together we may fulfill our greater purpose.’ For more information and the next EnPowered Women’s Leaders Workshop, go to

Lead confidently, live courageously and communicate from the heart.
©2018 Joanne Hutchinson