This issue: The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®)


What it is

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®), published by The Myers-Briggs Company, is a framework that helps people understand how using different conflict management styles affects interpersonal and group dynamics, empowering them to choose the best approach for any situation.

The tool provides a useful structure by assessing how assertive a person is (how focused they are on satisfying their own concerns) and how cooperative they are (how focused they are on satisfying other people’s concerns). The combination of these two factors means that an individual will tend naturally to fall into one of five modes when it comes to conflict:

  • Avoiding (avoiding conflict, sidestepping the issue, withdrawing)
  • Accommodating (neglecting their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of other people)
  • Competing (pursuing their own goals at others’ expense)
  • Collaborating (working with others to find a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of both parties)
  • Compromising (splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position).


Managing conflict with self-awareness

Looking at the five modes’ descriptions, some may sound better or more adaptive than others to each individual. However, all of them are equally good – when appropriately matched to the situation. By building self-awareness with the deepest knowledge of their conflict-handling behaviour, people can recognise their default approach to conflict, learn how to purposefully use other modes when necessary and identify the best approach for a given situation. The tool serves teams and individuals alike and is useful in helping recognise how to defuse conflict more effectively and create more productive outcomes at work or in personal matters.


How it works

The TKI can be completed online within 15 minutes. The assessment has 30 items. A personalised and comprehensive TKI Report that shows, among other items, how frequently the person uses each conflict mode is generated. Although an individual can generate and download their own report, the preferred way is to have a trained coach walk the client through the results, facilitating the interpretation and offering examples and further insight for specific situations. In organisations, the TKI is used to enhance leadership, communication, team development and stress management. The cost is around £28.50 for each assessment if purchased on the website.


The coach’s experience

The TKI instrument has illuminated the approach that an individual may take towards conflict. My belief is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to conflict. Using the TKI allows an individual to become aware of the other conflict modes that might be a better approach to use based on the situation.

I’ve used the instrument with teams to allow people to understand where someone’s automatic approach may come from. This creates a greater understanding between colleagues on a team, which can improve the team’s effectiveness. In particular, one sales organisation used the TKI to consider the approach a salesperson may take versus the approach a customer might have.

I had the privilege to attend an in-person two-day session a few years back and Ralph Kilmann helped to facilitate the session. This took my experience in using the TKI to the next level. As a result of that training (not certification), I started using my TKI reports to assimilate information on how the leader’s behaviour may impact the ‘group’ TKI type.

We also learned how to take an inside view and an outside view approach of the report. This means a person needs to complete two TKI reports. The first report is taken with the mindset of how a person approaches conflict inside their organisation. The second report is taken with the mindset of how a person approaches conflict outside their organisation and across all other aspects of their life. The results create a rich discussion of the culture of an organisation and how a person might need to flex to the mode of the organisation.

  • Dr Christie Cooper is the president and founder of Cooper Consulting Group. Cooper has been using the TKI for a decade.



The client’s experience

Founded in 1982, Vancouver-based Earls Kitchen + Bar has 69 restaurants in Canada and the US. The casual dinner chain employs thousands of people. With the goal of building restaurant leaders in a very competitive business space, it adopted the TKI to support the organisation with the capacity of renewing itself.

To stay ahead of the competition, Earls invests heavily in training people for the knowledge and competencies they need to run a restaurant, and in developing them as leaders. Its approach is that building excellent leaders is the key for everything. At Earls, employees are referred to as ‘business partners’, and most leaders come up through the company.

The organisation has been using the TKI since 2006 in its team leadership seminars for junior leaders to help them learn to master one of the toughest challenges in this position: conflict.

The instrument has helped the staff build self-awareness, and to understand that there are choices in handling conflict and implications that come along with each way of dealing with it. This strategic thinking is seen as vital for effective leadership at Earls.

Creating strong leaders is a point of professional pride at Earls, whether those leaders stay with the company or not. Their inspiration comes from leaving people with something they can take away for the rest of their lives and careers.





  • Shows which mode or modes a person is most likely to use – there are no right or wrong answers
  • Clients are capable of using all five modes – think of each as a muscle. Once they identify which muscle(s) may need more work, they can make improvements
  • A section called signs of overuse and underuse can allow for a deeper understanding of oneself



  • No certification is needed to use it, which can be a pro and a con
  • Results can be even better explored if paired with the MBTI® (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), which can be completed at an extra cost