When you think of animals in the wild, you might imagine constant bloody battles for domination. However, most animals do not engage in conflict unless it is an absolute necessity, and will only go as far as to scare off their competitor . This is because conflict is costly at best and fatal at worst, even for the winners. For humans, navigating conflict can drain physical, emotional and material resources. For this reason, it’s vital that we only engage in conflict when the outcome exceeds the cost of engaging. Going further, by being strategic in how we engage we could potentially create outcomes that benefit both sides, building stronger relationships as a result.
Personally, I use the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKCI) during times where I need to navigate conflict . I have found it Immensely useful when debating with colleagues, and even during arguments with family members. The model helps you to navigate conflict by providing you with five different strategies.
To use this tool effectively, it’s important to have self-awareness. In many cases, destructive conflicts are caused by unmet psychological needs [1,7]. You can identify these conflicts by how both sides resort to personal attacks and judgements. However, while you can’t control the emotions you feel, you can control how you respond to the situation. You can achieve this by focussing on the outcome you want and resist letting your emotions influence your approach. Ask yourself, what is the ideal outcome I want from this situation?
Once you know this, you can apply the model to choose the approach that will help you navigate the conflict efficiently and with minimal cost.
Breakdown of the model
The model describes five different stances to take when engaging in conflict. Your choice should be determined by how you view the situation, and the outcome that you want.
The Avoiding stance is exhibited by the person sidestepping the issue. For example, going silent, responding in a non-committal manner, or walking away from the situation. This strategy is best used when the issue is generally unimportant, or when engaging in the issue costs more than the perceived reward. More simply put, if the cost of engaging is higher than the reward, avoidance is a perfect strategy. Don’t waste energy over every angry comment, it’s generally better to let them go.
As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg advices, when it comes to marriages and the workplace “It pays to be a little deaf”.
Accommodating is the strategy that prioritises the other persons needs. A person using this stance will be listening and agreeing more. In other words, you are yielding to the other person’s point of view or demands. This is an effective strategy to use when the outcome is more important to the other person than it is for you. Being accommodating puts you in good graces and makes it more likely for other person to reciprocate in the future. It is a useful way to defer an argument until the outcome is important to you.
Competing is putting your own needs at the cost of others. It is a quick, powerful, and assertive approach that focusses on achieving the desired outcome quickly. When the result is Important to you and time is precious, this is the ideal approach. For example, in an emergency situation there is no time to debate what the best option is, assert yourself and make yourself heard. This is also an appropriate strategy when standing up for your own rights.
Compromising is quickly finding an acceptable solution that partially satisfies both sides. To reach a decision quickly, both sides will have to sacrifice some of their needs. In essence, you are splitting the difference. This is an appropriate strategy when the outcome is not important enough to require more effort, or when there is not enough time to work towards a win-win scenario. Compromising should be avoided when the outcome is vitally important to you, as you will always feel a little dissatisfied with the result.
Collaborating is an effective and often underused strategy when approaching conflict. Taking time to understand the root cause, you try to find a solution that fully satisfies the needs of both sides. In this scenario, engaging in conflict leads to a better outcome for all.
For this approach to be effective, both parties need to be open with their needs and be willing to fully explore them. This process takes time and can be uncomfortable. People who are collaborating will ask open questions, listen, and share their own insights. The collaborating stance is a perfect strategy when you want to take the time to develop a perfect solution. You should also use it to develop stronger long-term relationships.
My personal stories of applying this model
I had to present an important project to my boss. She disagreed with a lot of the content, and wanted to change it significantly. I could have been stubborn by taking a Competing stance, or I could have yielded by taking an Accommodating stance. If we Compromised then both of us would be partially dissatisfied with the result. I realised that I did not want to lose the core message of the content and I assumed that my boss was being difficult. By asking questions and listening to her, I realised that she was worried that the content was too complex for the audience to understand. Taking the time to work together, we edited the content to suit both our needs.
The end result was much better than what I could have achieved on my own. In this situation, it was worth taking the time and effort to find a perfect solution.
It was only after reading about TKCI that I realised that accommodating was a game-changing stance to take. A colleague once summoned me to his desk to show me that he found a technical error in my report. I disagreed. During our heated discussion, I paused and asked myself if fighting this point was important. I realised that correcting the error would not have changed the report’s message. I adapted my approach to being Accommodating, outlining that while I didn’t agree, I was happy to go forward with his correction. My colleague wanted to win this out of pride or ego, I was not willing to waste time and energy fighting him for it.
Choose your battles. You don’t have to win every conflict. Similarly, you don’t have to engage every time. I could have saved myself a lot of time by Avoiding this argument all together.
Moving from Competing to Collaborating
When conflict happens, we often engage assuming the other person is in the wrong. We don’t make an effort to understand the other person’s perspective, this is when we are potentially overusing the Competing stance. In my personal relationships, I have noticed that I sometimes jump to defend my position without first considering the other persons. In the moment I just want to be right, without realising that the cost of being right is hurting my partner. Once I stopped and asked my partner questions about their point of view, I realised that I wasn’t completely in the right. Collaborating is useful in building deeper and more functional relationships.
My concluding thoughts and personal tips
Once you understand the main outcome you want from a conflict you can start to consider how to engage. Conflict management techniques can be powerful in producing creative solutions or building powerful relationships. However, take nature’s advice, and only engage when the benefit exceeds the cost.
Here are some personal tips that have helped me to navigate conflict more effectively.
When it comes to coaches, there is a host to choose from.
Life coaches, Career coaches, Performance coaches, Business coaches, Relationship coaches, Executive coaches, and even Coaching Psychologists. This is only a sample of the various specialisms within the coaching profession. Since I consider myself to be a Coaching Psychologist, I’ll highlight how this differs to a Life coach, and the advantages of working with one.
Let’s begin by outlining what a Life coach is, arguably the most well-known. According to the research, A Life coaches’ aim is to facilitate sustained cognitive, emotional and behavioural change in a client . More simply put, the Life coach supports the client in their self-development by exploring their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Goals are then set to help promote positive change. For most people, Life coaching is the first specialism that they are introduced to. These are the generalists of the trade, dealing with various life issues from quitting smoking to starting a new business venture. Sessions with a Life coach usually take place one-to-one, in either the coaches office, or online.
A Coaching psychologist has a similar approach, but uses psychologically supported methods to achieve long-term positive change. As members of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Coaching psychologists are trained to look at the world with a scientific eye. Their rigorous education lead them to prefer tools that are backed by a large quantity of evidence. In other words, a coaching psychologist will only use tools that they are confident will work. This is the main difference compared to a life coach, who’s qualification does not demand them to use this scientific approach. However, this position gives the Life coach a significant advantage, they have the freedom to be creative with the techniques they use in their sessions.
To counter this, Coaching Psychologists are required to constantly read up on current studies and theories to make sure that their practice is still relevant. This scientific approach means that clients can rest assured that any content offered in sessions are effective and up to date.
Managing client wellbeing
There is a fine line between coaching and therapy, but it is an important one to maintain. One big difference is that coaching is designed for functioning clients who desire self-development, while therapy focusses on people diagnosed as having some form of mental disorder . This promotes the dangerous assumption that clients within coaching will not be suffering from any mental disorders. In reality everyone is susceptible, and it is the coaches role to be aware of this. For example, addiction, stress, burnout, and depression are growing issues within organisations, and most Business coaches are at a disadvantage to deal with it. However, because of their training, Coaching Psychologist are well placed to manage the emotions of the client, and monitor for any potential mental disorders . Studies show that they are able to identify any mental health issues sooner, ensuring a safer space for clients to open up. These clients can then be referred to the relevant specialists quickly and safely.
For myself personally, my background in psychology has meant that I have built a network of accredited therapists and Counselling Psychologists. I rely on this network to support me when I need to refer a client who has become aware of any underlying mental disorder. In addition, being trained in Organisational Psychology has given me experience working with common wellbeing issues such as burnout.
Coaching using personality tests
An added benefit to working with a Coaching Psychologist is that they are often trained to use personality tests. Personality tests are a great way to gain insight into your own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Using the results of these tests, rich sessions can be conducted to help you become more aware of your development needs. For example, by exploring the results with a coach, a client may discover that they have a heavy preference for tried and tested methods of working. After discussing the potential downsides to such a preference, the client becomes aware that this has stopped them from being creative in the workplace. The coach and client then work on forming a strategy centred on helping the client become more innovative.
Some psychometric tools such as DISC or MBTI highlight personality differences, and make you aware of how other personalities view your behaviour. For example, personality types who prefer to gather all the information before making a decision may find that they aggravate other people who prefer to make quick decisions using a brief summary. Gaining insight into your own personality can help you build better relationships. Once you are aware of how you and your colleagues differ in personality, you can start to adapt your communication style to maximise collaboration effectiveness.
Each coaching specialism carries its own strength. For a Business coach it’s their understanding of the corporate environment, for a Life coach it’s their ability to have an impact on a huge range of clients. Nevertheless, the primary benefit of working with a Coaching Psychologist is the scientifically supported and methodological approach to reaching your goals. Furthermore, Coaching Psychologists have been trained to work with the human mind, making them knowledgeable on subjects such as wellbeing and personality. Clients should feel confident that their coach is of a high calibre and will offer content that is supported with scientific evidence. This should encourage clients to feel comfortable trusting the coaching process and to invest in their self-development.
 Bluckert, P. (2005). The similarities and differences between coaching and therapy. Industrial and Commercial Training.
 Douglas, C. A., & McCauley, C. D. (1999). Formal developmental relationships: A survey of organizational practices. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 10(3), 203-220.
 Lai, Y. L., & McDowall, A. (2014). A systematic review (SR) of coaching psychology: Focusing on the attributes of effective coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 9(2), 120-136.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This is a well-used expression describing the advantages of developing strong networks to further one’s cause. While many people take pride in achieving success independently, the truth is that they are less likely to succeed without support. One of the main ways to build such a network is by nurturing trusting relationships. Trust acts as a catalyst, encouraging communication, collaboration, and strengthening the performance of those involved . As a by-product, trust enables more human connections, meaning individuals who make an effort to build trust benefit from stronger networks.
Harvard Business Review confirmed that trust is the most important capital for empowering leaders . Leaders rely on the support of their team to meet targets and to make an impact that they could not possibly do on their own. This is achieved by building an environment based on trust which empowers others to be their best selves and to do their best work. For this reason, understanding how to build trust is vital in maximising one’s impact.
What is trust?
A common theme in the research is that trust requires a “willingness to take risks” . This is the key to defining what trust is. Previous managers that I have worked with defined trust as “knowing how someone will behave” or “having confidence that someone will deliver in a way that they expect”. In other words, whether or not they decide to trust someone is dependent on how confident they are in predicting the end result. Because of this, trust is often associated with predictable or reliable people. People who have a history of delivering on what is expected of them are more likely to be trusted.
It takes a great deal of effort to trust someone when you don’t know what the end result will be, this is the reason many people prefer to trust reliable people. The level of trust it takes to depend on a reliable person is small, we are confident we can predict their actions. This means the road to higher levels of trust requires a person to let go of control and leave themselves vulnerable. Famous business writer Patrick Lencioni applies this to teams, outlining that trust is being confident that your peers' intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around them. For a team to be effective, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable. When this is achieved, opinions, ideas, and information are more readily shared which leads to better solutions. From another perspective, a person who doesn’t trust their team will be unlikely to share any new ideas that go against the status quo. They are also less likely to ask for help out of fear that they will be judged on their ability. Alternatively, a trusting team is aware of each members strengths and weaknesses, and support each other in achieving results. The team acts as a concentrated support network which greatly increases the performance of each individual and overall wellbeing.
In essence, trust is about encouraging opening up in relationships so that the people around you are better able to support you. For this reason, learning how to build trusting relationships is necessary to succeed.
The road to building trust
Building trust takes time and effort. People are generally hesitant to trust until they feel the benefits are worth the risk of opening up. To begin the process, research suggests achieving small wins . For example, if someone at work opens up to you about a problem they are having, and you respond positively and support them through it non-judgmentally, then you have the start of a positive interaction. If you were to follow that interaction with your own request for support, they would likely be excited to help you. Both of these people have put themselves in a vulnerable position, which is the start of developing trust. Frequent small wins like this will encourage further collaboration and a stronger relationship overall.
This approach also applies to leaders and managers. Shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown asked leaders what the number one decider was when it came to whom they trusted . The most popular response was whether the other person asks them for help. However, when this was turned around, very few of these leaders were willing to ask for help themselves. Leaders are generally hesitant to appear less than perfect, to appear vulnerable.
In order to garner trust leaders should not be afraid to show their vulnerability. This does not mean letting loose all your demons and emotions without a filter. As outlined in the research, consistent small wins grows trust over time. For example, a manager has a meeting with a new team member. The manager asks how the onboarding process is going, but the team member hesitantly smiles saying everything is fine. One possibility is that the manager stops there and the discussion goes no further. Alternatively, the manager could share some of the difficulties they experienced when they first joined the team. This moment of shared vulnerability encourages the team member to open up about their own difficulties, confident that they are not going to be judged. Small steps like this build a culture of trust which empowers people to perform at their best.
In summary, trust is the confidence to take risks in establishing meaningful connections with others. Rather than fighting to remain independent and self-sufficient, people would benefit from investing time in building a network based on trust. The benefits including: higher levels of commitment from others and better cooperation will lead to improved performance overall . Professionals, managers, and leaders alike should take the risk to create such networks in order to reach their full potential.
In the end, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
My personal tips for building trust and maintaining it
Building trust takes time, but it can be shattered in a moment. When going about building trust, the key is to do small consistent actions over a period of time [1,2].
Do you have any more suggestions for building trust? I’d love to know about them.
From an evolutionary perspective, humans are the most successful species because they adapt quickly to their environment . Human thinking and reflective abilities have enabled them to thrive all over the world. This ability flourishes when put in an environment that nurtures it. One example of this is working with a coach. Coaching provides the space for clients to reflect and consider the barriers that may be preventing them from succeeding.
In more detail, coaching is the interaction between coach and client to improve the clients capability by increasing self-awareness and implementing new behaviours and actions  . Different forms of coaching can vary from life coaching, career coaching, all the way to executive coaching. Each one of these forms share the primary goal of empowering the client to achieve positive developmental change.
Self-awareness is the most important outcome of coaching. By becoming more aware of yourself and how you interact with the world around you, you will be able to overcome the obstacles that are stopping you from thriving.
The benefits of self-awareness
When someone has high self-awareness, they recognise their thoughts, feelings and values. More importantly, they recognise how these things can influence their behaviour . A person with low self-awareness may not realise that they become blunt when stressed, leading to more arguments in the office and at home. The alternative to this is noticing this behaviour, and deciding to act in a different way to achieve a more desirable outcome. In many cases, barriers that are holding people back can be self-imposed. This can range from a lack of confidence to being ignorant of an action's impact. By being more self-aware we begin to understand the ability we have to change our lives. We are then able to consciously think of solutions that will create our desired result.
How coaching can help build awareness
The first step to changing is being aware of what needs changing. A coach can achieve this by asking questions that challenge a person to think more deeply about their situation. This line of questioning leads to a thorough exploration, along with identification of the best actions moving forward. This can apply to workplace conflicts. If a person is struggling to interact and engage with their manager, a coach can help them identify the barriers in the relationship. They can also explore how personality differences can impact communication. Understanding these differences will help the person to communicate in a way that engages different personalities. People are inherently different and learning how to adapt one's communication style to each personality can help develop stronger relationships.
This is often the focus of executive coaches when working with managers. Research into coaching and leadership shows overwhelming support for the effectiveness of coaching in increasing leadership performance . Executive coaching help managers develop insight into their impact on their teams, into their reactions to different personalities, and into the costs of their actions. From this insight, coaches support the executive in creating new approaches and behaviours that have a stronger impact. Through this constant re-evaluation, managers are able to become more effective leaders.
In summary, the primary value that coaching brings is helping people become more aware of themselves and the barriers stopping them from thriving. Through the practice of increased self-awareness, you will have a stronger impact on your life, and on the people around you.
My personal tips to increase self-awareness
This is a short list of tasks and practices that I have found to be immensely powerful in increasing my own self-awareness.
Do you have more to add? I'd love to know about them, include them in the comments below.