Campus Living: Understanding Conflict Management Styles

Family Modules

Module 8 Part 5



Objective: The student will describe his or her conflict management style and apply it to situations for campus living.

This lesson is designed to help you think about conflict management styles in the context of living on campus in college. Working through this lesson will enable you and your parents to discuss approaches to solving conflicts based on your conflict management style.

Estimated time 30-45 minutes

Materials included:

Materials needed:

Curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 8 Lesson 5 in the STEPP Classroom Transition resources.

Learn About It

Thomas Kilmann Conflict Management Instrument

Five Styles of Conflict Management

When people are living together, conflict is sure to arise. Therefore, people have developed different ways to handle conflict. It is important to know how you handle stressful situations, and it is also important to understand how the people you live with react to conflict. For example, you may be ready to talk about a problem and work on a resolution to it immediately; your roommate, on the other hand, may need 30 minutes to get his or her thoughts together.

The diagram above is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, a model for describing how people handle conflict. The vertical axis and the horizontal axis list are two dimensions of conflict management: assertive and cooperative. The diagram shows how different levels of those two dimensions combine to create five different styles of conflict management:


People who use the accommodating style of conflict management often neglect their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others. Accommodating is the opposite style of competing. People who accommodate may be selflessly generous or charitable, and they may also obey another person when they would prefer not to, or yield to another’s point of view. They may work against their own goals or objectives to reach a desired outcome. They may have to give in to reach the desired outcome. Accommodating may preserve future relationships with the conflicting person or party.


When someone uses the avoidance style, they are not helping the other party reach their goals, but they are also not assertively pursuing their own. They may diplomatically sidestep or postpone discussion until a better time, withdraw from the threatening situation, or divert attention. They perceive conflict as hopeless and therefore something to be avoided. They overlook differences and accept disagreement. This style works when the issue is trivial or when there is you have no chance of winning. It’s also very effective when the atmosphere is emotionally charged and you need to create some “space.” Sometimes, conflicts will resolve themselves. But, in general, avoiding is not a good long-term strategy.


People who collaborate work together make a plan to improve a situation or achieve the goals of both parties. They attempt to work with others to find solutions that fully satisfy everyone’s concerns. This can be effective for complex scenarios where a novel solution is needed. It can also mean re-framing a challenge to create more room for everybody’s ideas. The downside is that collaborating requires a high degree of trust, and reaching consensus can require a lot of time and effort. It takes work to get everybody on board and to synthesize a variety of potentially conflicting ideas. People using this style often recognize there are tensions in relationships and contrasting viewpoints, but want to work through conflicts.


People who compete take a power orientation and use whatever power is available to them to win, even at the expense of the other party. This may include arguing, pulling rank, or instigating sanctions. Competing may mean standing up and defending a position believed to be correct, or simply trying to win. Forcing is another way of viewing competition. People who use a forcing style perceive that they are right and others are wrong. This approach may be appropriate for emergencies when time is of the essence, or when you need quick, decisive action. People should be aware of and support the approach. However, it is not a good conflict management style for handling normal conflict situations, since it demands that only one person be completely right and the other completely wrong. This is rarely the case. Most of the time, both parties need to be open to changing part of their behavior.


Some people describe compromise as a “lose-lose” approach, but this view is misleading. In a compromise, no one gets exactly what they initially wanted, but everyone benefits in some way. Compromisers give up less than accommodators, but more than competitors. They explore issues more fully than avoiders, but less than collaborators. Their solutions often involve “splitting the difference” or exchanging concessions. Compromise may be appropriate for scenarios where you need a temporary solution, or where both sides have equally important goals. However, it’s also possible to fall into the trap of compromising as an easier way out when collaborating, though harder, would have produced a better solution.

Parents Chime In

Have your student complete the “Conflict Management Questionnaire.” Then discuss how he or she would respond to the conflict scenario on the last page. Use the 3 questions below to guide your discussion:

  • How would I resolve this conflict?
  • Which conflict management style would this approach be?
  • What would I do if my roommate used a different conflict management style?

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will describe his or her conflict management style and apply it to situations for campus living.

If so, congratulations!

If not, review the conflict management styles and the importance of being able to use them appropriately.

Digging Deeper