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Competing, Accommodating, and Compromising

by Ralph Kilmann
January 2012 Ralph Kilmann
Since my first three insights addressed the avoiding and collaborating modes, this section will examine the common ingredient of the three remaining modes. Specifically, competing, accommodating, and compromising all fall on the distributive dimension—the diagonal from the upper-left corner to the lower-right corner on the TKI Conflict Model.

Competing is assertive and uncooperative: I get my needs met, but you don’t get your needs met. Accommodating is just the opposite— unassertive and cooperative: You get your needs met, but I don’t get my needs met. Compromising is in the middle: We each get some of what we want, but we both remain unfulfilled in other ways.

The common feature with these three modes is their zero-sum, win-lose nature: The more you get, the less I get (and vice versa), since the size of the pie is fixed. Essentially, we slide up and down the distributive dimension, deciding how to distribute the available pieces of that fixed pie. In mathematical terms, competing is when I get 100% of the pie and you get 0%. Accommodating is when you get 100% and I get 0%. Compromising, in its pure form, is when we each get 50% of the pie. But the total of what both of us receive from our resolution always adds up to 100%.

As usual, each conflict mode is only effective under a given set of conditions. Competing works best when the topic is much more important to me than it is to you. Accommodating is just the opposite. And if the topic is only somewhat important to both of us (and we don’t have a lot of time to discuss it anyway), we might as well divide up the pie in equal portions and move on to other topics.

The danger of these conflict modes on the distributive dimension, however, is when a person’s two or three highest modes on the TKI profile are some combination of competing, accommodating, and compromising (while the other modes are assessed as medium or low). In this case, the person can see only his work life and personal life in win-lose, zero-sum terms. Virtually every conflict becomes a tug of war on the distributive dimension. And since the other modes are much lower in usage, the person doesn’t see the larger arena that could be created by broadening the topic and thus expanding the size of the pie (as is possible with collaborating, as discussed earlier).

With TKI assessments, I often find that a significant number of people are blindly stuck on the distributive dimension and, therefore, are: (1) fully satisfied in some ways but losing coworkers, friends, and lovers in the process; (2) serving other people’s needs but rather dissatisfied and unhappy themselves; or (3) partially satisfied but also feeling unfulfilled and empty the rest of the time.

However, once a person becomes aware of her behavioral patterns, as revealed by her two or three highest versus lowest percentile modes, that awareness can then lead to dramatic behavioral change with training, patience, and practice. Sometime later (maybe a few weeks or a few months), a subsequent TKI assessment will reveal a more balanced profile with lower scores on competing, accommodating, and compromising and higher scores on collaborating and avoiding. Now the person has equal access to all five modes, depending on everyone’s needs and the key attributes of the situation.

All text and illustrations in this publication Copyright © 2009–2011 by Kilmann Diagnostics. All rights reserved. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and MBTI are registered trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc. The TKI and CPP logos are trademarks or registered trademarks of CPP, Inc.


Ralph H. Kilmann, Ph.D., is CEO and Senior Consultant at Kilmann Diagnostics in Newport Coast, California. Formerly, he was the George H. Love Professor of Organization and Management at the Katz School of Business, University of Pittsburgh—which was his professional home for thirty years. He earned both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon University (1970) and a Ph.D. degree in management from the University of California, Los Angeles (1972).

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