How a CEO manages conflict effectively

'Khun Kriengsak, I need your help," Rachen tells me. "I want to learn how to manage conflict effectively."

"Khun Rachen, how do you rate yourself in terms of effective conflict management skill?" I ask him. "Let's use a 10-point scale."

"I don't know, Coach. I guess five out of 10, maybe."

"That's all right. May I share a concept of a conflict management model?"

"Go ahead."

The Thomas-Kilmann model, I explain, was designed by psychologists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann. It demonstrates how individuals choose conflict styles. The model suggests five principles that guide individuals in the conflict process: Competing, Accommodating, Avoiding, Compromising, and Collaborating.

- Competing means standing up for your own rights and defending what you believe is correct.

- Accommodating means that you yield to others' points of view.

- Avoiding describes a situation where both sides do not cooperate and are assertive in order to solve their conflicts, often with tragic results. Both sides might decide to wait until they find a better solution or just avoid the situation.

- By Collaborating, both sides are willing to cooperate and listen to others.

- By Compromising, both parties seek a better solution in the middle ground as one gives to another while one takes.

"Coach, which one is the best?" Rachen asks.

"What do you think?"

"I guess the compromising style."

"Khun Rachen, there is no best solution for all situations. Each option is good when applied at the right time and also in the right context."

"Coach, I've noticed that several Thais including myself use compromising in most conflict situations."

"That's why we sometimes see outcomes in which quality ends up being compromised as well."

"Coach, it's hard for me to apply other styles. I have a tendency to use a compromising style at the beginning. But if the atmosphere becomes more heated, I have a tendency to be either accommodating or avoiding. I'm not comfortable with collaboration because it takes a longer time for full participation. And I'm most uncomfortable with using the competing style."

"Which one do you want to learn to do first?"

"I want to try to use the competing style more."

"What makes you say that?"

"I'm unable to command my team even when I know it's the right thing to do. For example, recently I had to increase our product prices across the board because of our increasing costs. When I called the meeting to announce the decision to all of my leadership team, three executives disagreed with me, and they raised some reasons why. I ended the meeting by telling them that I would need time to reconsider it. But I knew that the price increases were inevitable."

"What was going on in your mind in that meeting _ specifically when you heard people disagreeing with you?"

"I was thinking that this is not an option. It's inevitable. We have to do it."

"But you're unable to say it because ... "

"Because I was afraid to command them."

"Because ... "

"Because they would hate me if I had to instruct them to do what they disagreed with."

"Khun Rachen, what made you think they would hate you?"

"It's based on my own experience. When I was a child, my parents taught me that we have to in harmony with others. We have to avoid conflict because conflict will lead to dissatisfaction of all parties. I have held that belief very firmly. It has helped me to succeed in school and in the workplace."

"Khun Rachen, is it helping you now, in your CEO's role?"

He goes silent and ponders deeply. "Coach, it's not," he finally says.

"What would be an alternative belief, then?"

"Disagreement is a part of life now. As a CEO, I have to learn to live with it. In fact, I have to be able to apply other styles as well."

"Khun Rachen, why is it now necessary for you to be able to use a competing conflict management style or to be able to command the team when the situation requires it?"

"There are several consequences if I'm unable to instruct people:

- It shows on the balance sheet. For example, the price increase was delayed for one month. That's already eroded 2% of our annual profit.

- It jeopardises my leadership credibility. Most of my direct reports have gossiped that I was a cowardly boss.

- It creates a norm that we can compromise on everything. This is against the vision we have of being a high-performance organisation."

"Khun Rachen, how can you ensure that you'll be able to command when you need to?"

"Coach, I propose that we do some role playing so I can learn how to use a competing conflict management style."

"That's great. Let's do it!"

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at

About the author

Writer: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai
Position: Writer