What Are the Levels of Conflict?

The five levels of conflict are competitive, collaborative, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. These levels were developed as a conflict-resolution and management tool in the 1970s, and they form the core of the widely used Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. Each level describes the firmness of the individual's approach and is ideally conditioned by the importance of the desired outcome.

At the competitive level, the conflict partner adopts a position and does not deviate from it. This is most common among individuals near the top of a hierarchy who dictate instructions to those beneath them. At the collaborative level, parties involved in the conflict are encouraged to contribute to a shared goal. This is most effective among parties with a history of disagreement. Compromising approaches entail each party agreeing to sacrifice something to achieve consensus. Compromise is effective when time is an issue and a project has to be hurried along.

Accommodation is ideal when continuing conflict is more harmful than an undesirable outcome. The advantage of accommodation lies in the goodwill it builds toward higher-stakes situations where a leader must adopt a more confrontational stance. The lowest level of conflict is avoidance. Avoidance amounts to capitulation, and it is only suited to conflicts with unimportant outcomes or to motivate another party to adopt a leadership role.