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What Are the Different Conflict Resolution Theories?

By Pablo Garcia
Updated May 16, 2024
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Conflict resolution theories are structured around the type of dispute and the approaches to the conflict taken by the parties. Two central conflict resolution theories are the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) and the Interest Based Relational (IBR) Approach. The theory of TKI is that there are particular modes of dealing with conflict, and each is suited to different kinds of disputes. IBR puts forth a set of conflict resolution rules that should be used with any dispute.

Of the two conflict resolution theories, TKI places the most emphasis on the way in which the participants themselves handle conflict situations. It identifies five principal modes of approaching conflict. A mode that works in one type of conflict may not be suited to another type.

Competitive mode is evidenced by people who are operating from positions of power and have rank, expertise, and forceful personalities. This approach is most useful in emergencies, when quick decisions are required. It may cause resentments or be counterproductive in non-emergency situations. The collaborative mode attempts to find solutions that will satisfy all positions. It brings together all points of view and is most effective in longstanding disputes where tradeoffs are necessary.

Compromising mode seeks solutions that give at least partial satisfaction to all the disputants. Everyone must also give something up. It is most suited to avoiding litigation, where the cost of conflict is higher than that of the sacrifice. Accommodating mode meets the needs of others at the expense of one’s own. It is not thought the most effective conflict resolution approach, but may be adopted where peace between the parties in a volatile situation where there is little at stake but “winning.”

Avoiding mode seeks to escape conflict entirely, delegating controversial decisions. It is only useful where the dispute is minor, or another person should be solving the conflict. Understanding the different modes can aid in deciding how to approach a dispute.

Between the two types of conflict resolution theories, the IBR approach focuses on the application of six rules applied equally to all participants in the dispute. The primary rule is that all participants behave civilly and be understanding of the other party’s positions. Keeping people and problems separate is a rule that must be followed even when there are personality clashes between the disputants. Paying attention to the interest being presented by each of the parties is a key rule for effectively resolving the conflict.

Listening carefully is required of all the parties, as it is considered the best way to understand why another person has taken a particular position. This can yield insights into what that person really feels the dispute is about. Objective factual matters not in dispute must be established and kept separate from any emotions about those facts. Finally, options must be explored together by all the participants, as joint solution is the optimal way to resolve the conflict.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are different conflict resolution theories?

Conflict resolution theories encompass win-win or collaborative theory, interest-based theory, power-based theory, communication theory, and transformative theory. Each theory provides a unique perspective and approach to understanding and resolving conflicts.

How do win-win and collaborative theories contribute to conflict resolution?

Win-win and collaborative theories emphasize cooperation, open communication, and creative problem-solving to reach solutions that meet the needs and interests of all parties involved. By promoting mutual benefit and understanding, these theories foster positive relationships and sustainable resolutions.

What is the significance of interest-based theory in conflict resolution?

Interest-based theory focuses on identifying the underlying needs and interests of conflicting parties. By addressing these underlying factors, interest-based theory encourages parties to move away from rigid positions and find solutions that satisfy their mutual interests, leading to more constructive and lasting resolutions.

How does power-based theory contribute to conflict resolution?

Power-based theory recognizes the impact of power dynamics in conflicts. It aims to address power imbalances, empower marginalized parties, and promote fairness and social justice. By addressing power disparities, power-based theory seeks to create equitable resolutions that consider the needs and perspectives of all parties involved.

What role does communication theory play in conflict resolution?

Communication theory emphasizes effective communication as a vital component of conflict resolution. It highlights active listening, empathy, and clear expression of thoughts and feelings to foster understanding, facilitate dialogue, and find common ground. Communication theory helps parties overcome barriers, manage emotions, and build positive relationships, enabling them to work collaboratively towards resolving conflicts.

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Discussion Comments

By ZipLine — On Apr 28, 2014

@bear78-- I think the Dayton Accords was a combination of compromise and competition. The good part about a third party intervention, especially when the one intervening is a powerful government like the US, is that the parties to the conflict have to behave civilly and work to resolve issues.

The Dayton Accords was a compromise in the sense that everyone gave a little to reach a compromise. And I mean that literally because the Dayton Accords decided the land boundaries of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. But it also involved competition because the parties to the conflict had no choice but to compromise. They were basically stuck at that Air Force Base until they came to an agreement.

By bear78 — On Apr 27, 2014

Which conflict resolution theory was used for the Dayton Accords? The parties to the conflict met at Dayton Air Force Base and reached a resolution fairly quickly.

By fify — On Apr 27, 2014
The compromising mode of TKI seems to be a good conflict resolution method. I know that this technique is used by conflict resolution experts particularly for long standing conflicts. For example, it is one of the main methods used for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Competitive or avoiding mode does not work for this conflict because it is a major conflict but it has been going on for a very long time. So it's not possible to resolve the conflict without resentment if a competitive mode is tried. Avoiding mode is not even applicable to this conflict.

The only way that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved is if the two parties become willing to give something up for peace. Unless both sides are satisfied to some extent, they will not agree to peace because there is a lot at stake and both peoples have suffered due this conflict since many years.

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