Trainers considering use of Style Matters as a conflict style inventory should be aware of two other options as well, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and the Hammer Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory. Style Matters has been optimized for what we believe are the needs of most conflict resolution trainers. But a percentage of trainers might benefit from a more specialized tool.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
Optimized for psychometrics. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, also known as the TKI, was developed in the 1970s with a priority on psychometric validation.
The Thomas-Kilmann is noted for its commitment to psychometrics, reflected in its commitment to the use of a question format that forces users to choose between only two possible options in responding. Although some users find this format annoying, authors Thomas and Kilmann retain it because it results, they say, in more accurate data.
If psychometrics is your over-riding concern, and issues such as user friendliness, cultural flexibility, and cost have no bearing for you, the Thomas-Kilmann is probably the right choice.
Cost is $19.50 per user. A trainer’s guide is available for $250.
The Intercultural Conflict Styles Inventory
Optimized for cultural analysis. The purpose of Mitch Hammer’s Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory is building capacity to understand cultural differences and do conflict resolution across cultures. Its questions and interpretive frameworks all revolve around this. If that’s your primary objective, there’s no better tool. The ICSI ranges in price from $16-$22 per user.
Optimized for Learning. As a trainer with academic background and deep commitment to building cross-cultural understanding, I care about psychometrics and cultural issues. But for me and, I believe, most trainers using Style Matters, those are not the key priorities in training.
I’m not interested in making definitive pronouncements about how people function in conflict and I discourage trainers from this. Rather, I want to give people a framework for evaluating dynamics of conflict, reviewing options, and making wise choices. For that purpose, trust in the tools of learning is a more important requirement than supreme psychometric reliability. That means arranging questions in ways that are not off-putting to users.
Nor am I interested in full-blown cultural comparison in most of the training I do. I simply need a conflict resolution training tool that people from a variety of cultural backgrounds feel comfortable with.
In developing Style Matters, I prioritized teaching effectiveness. I needed a tool that I could rely on in all kinds of settings to give learners a high quality learning experience. I wanted a simple, powerful tool to help learners think through their options in conflict, that gave highest authority to self-reflection, discussion, and feedback from others rather than to “rock-solid metrics”. And it needed to be cost affordable to all the groups I worked with.
Although I had used the Thomas-Kilmann for several years and experienced its usefulness, I was frustrated by the resistance I regularly encountered around the wording of questions. I was also troubled by the discomfort of many participants from backgrounds outside the white, educated North American backgrounds of its authors. You can read more about this in my essay here.
Durable training tools mature and improve as authors revise them based on experience. The themes we’ve worked relentlessly to improve are:
- accessibility and familiarity for users (in order to build trust and credibility in the results)
- cultural flexibility (achieved by offering users two different ways to frame questions)
- stress responsiveness (achieved by scoring users in both Calm and Storm conditions)
- clarity and simplicity of wording
- ease of use for trainers (achieved by providing free high-quality trainer guides)
- affordability (priced at about a third the cost of the TKI and ICSI)
Independent researchers did psychometric evaluation of Style Matters in 2007 and helped us tweak it for psychometric validity and reliability. But we signal users throughout that their own self-assessment and the feedback of those who know them well are what really count in determining their patterns. Numbers on a test are the first stop on a journey of self-awareness; they should not be considered the final destination.