The Collaborative Approach to Workplace Conflict Resolution

People experience conflict when dealing with other people who have different values and interests (PON Staff, 2020).  Conflict can be uncomfortable, aggressive, and risky sometimes, but it can also be constructive and improve performance and employee interaction when it is controlled and functional conflict (Verdhan, 2021).  There are five common ways which we use to handle conflict, according to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.  These are competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, and compromising conflict-handling modes (Thomas & Kilmann, n.d.). 

Collaborating Conflict-Handling Mode 

Common instinctive reactions to a conflict may be to avoid it, such as in Thomas-Kilmann’s avoiding mode, or to dig in, argue, and fight, such as in Thomas-Kilmann’s competing mode.  A more powerful mode of conflict-handling is collaborating, which is assertive as well as cooperative (Thomas & Kilmann, n.d.).  In a business environment where long-term relationships with associates are important, a collaborative style allows both sides to get what they want while working together (Benoliel, 2017).  With the spirit of cooperation, both sides are respectful and support each other in working toward the common goal of finding a the right solution for both parties.  Patiently working through all of the possibilities, collaboration takes creativity, open-mindedness, and commitment (Holland, 2021). 

In a collaborative style of conflict resolution, the people in the conflict are seeking a “win-win” result and there is usually buy-in from both parties since they have worked together on the resolution.  This is particularly potent in team conflicts (Dixita, 2020), if they want to work the conflict out.  As Dorothy Walker said in her TED Talk, both sides must want to resolve the conflict (Walker, 2020).  Although it is time-consuming to listen and work with all parties involved, the discussion of the issues in a nonthreatening environment allows real communication, feedback, and exploring alternative solutions together.  Unlike compromising, all parties get their needs met in the collaborating mode of conflict-handling (MT Copeland, 2021). 

Why Do People Assume Collaborating Is Best? 

People assume that the collaborative approach to conflict resolution is better than other modes because it results in a win-win solution and considers all parties perspectives, leaving them all satisfied with minimal negative feelings (Kalish, n.d.).  Due to the trust and respect that collaboration builds in relationships, along with the increased engagement of employees in working through the conflict, it may seem like the best approach to use (Holland, 2021). 

Collaborating: Not the Best Conflict-Resolution Technique 

The collaborating conflict-handling mode is not the best approach to conflict resolution.  It is a tool to be used when there is a need to build or maintain a strong relationship, when it is important to collaborate for the sake of the team or organization culture, and when increased commitment is desired (MT Copeland, 2021).  It is not ideal when there are tight deadlines, non-negotiable safety actions that need to take place (MT Copeland, 2021), and when the parties are negative or not committed to collaboration. 

Sometimes, there is not a win-win solution, and one party must compromise or accommodate the other.  Sometimes there are too many parties for collaboration to be effective.  Sometimes one party is using another conflict-handling mode such as competing, avoiding, or accommodating rather than assertively and cooperatively working toward a mutual solution.  Sometimes, there is not the time or energy available to patiently work through a collaborative conflict resolution process. 


Benoliel, B. (2017, May 30). What’s Your Conflict Management Style? 

Dixita. (2020, November 3). 5 Conflict Management Styles To Improve Your Productivity. 

Holland, E. (2021, August 10). Resolving Problems with Collaborative Conflict Style. 

Kalish, D. (n.d.). Collaborating style. 

MT Copeland. (2021, July 16). What is the Collaborating Conflict Management Style and When Should You Use It? 

PON Staff. (2020, June 16). Four Conflict Negotiation Strategies for Resolving Value-Based Disputes. 

Thomas, K. & Kilmann, R. (n.d.). Take the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). 

Verdhan, R. (2021, September 8). Functional Conflict – Benefits, Resolution. 

Walker, D. (2020, April 1). 3 ways to resolve a conflict [TED Institute]. YouTube. 

by Arthur Ocain

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