Post originally appeared on Grant Professionals Association's Blog
When you encounter workplace conflict, do you react instinctively? Or do you take a minute to think through how to effectively respond? Conflicts emerge often for grant professionals, from the smaller tensions around word choice or shared tasks to much larger disagreements on management and ethics. Recently, I had the opportunity to learn more about conflict resolution and the different ways we can approach workplace conflicts.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a framework of five conflict responses that vary in level of assertiveness. Each person has their preferred response type, and you can probably think of a personal example of when your approach to resolving a conflict was incompatible with another person's style. The art is knowing your own preferred approach to conflict—recognizing how others naturally deal with conflict—and finding the right style for the present situation.
Here are the five response types outlined in the TKI, with just a few examples of how they could be applied in the grants world:
Compete: “This is the way it's going to be.” “It's my way or the high way.” “We're moving forward with this.” We compete when there is no room to negotiate and we need quick, correct action. This is ideal for situations where bending to meet the other party's request would be significantly detrimental to you, your organization, or the grant request. The perfect example of this is ethical behavior. If someone suggests an unethical approach, such as percentage-based compensation for your work on a grant proposal, your response would be “That's unethical practice and I do not work that way.”
Collaborate: When you collaborate through conflict, the goal is to meet everyone's needs as much as possible. You may get a phone call from foundation staff asking to revise your program budget as they're interested in funding X but not Y—your job is to help the foundation and your program staff feel equally supported. Collaborating takes the most time and energy, but often produces the most satisfying result.
Compromise: The goal here is to satisfy everyone… somewhat. It requires that all parties be willing to meet in the middle and works best when those involved have equal power and a shared goal. There may be an instance when two leaders of different programs have a great idea on a shared project, but when it comes to writing a grant they can't agree on how to frame the project. Finding the middle ground between the two programs' different backgrounds, contexts, and goals—even when they have a shared outcome in mind—will require compromise.
Accommodate: Here you “give in” to satisfy the other party's need. I think of this as a pick-your-battles strategy. Do you really need to hold your ground against a wordsmithing colleague today? It's also great when the other person's idea or suggestion strengthens your work: you might not like having to make that big change, but it's for the greater good.
Avoid: There truly are times when avoidance is a valid choice. Perhaps you're caught in the middle of a conflict between others; you can use avoidance to try to stay out of it as much as possible. Or, emotions are running high and everyone needs some time to cool down and appropriately address the issue later. You can also use avoidance when change is just not possible. If there's no chance to constructively address your concerns and raising the issue may make matters worse for you, you may need to avoid bringing it up. Avoidance is often not a permanent solution—but you may use it to let conflict take a backseat until the time is right.
Each approach has value and applying the right strategy can help conflict be resolved more effectively. I found this framework a powerful way to reconsider conflict's role in the workplace, and I'm trying to respond more thoughtfully when these moments arise.
How might you apply these modes to your work?
Kat Champigny works at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to support its work in middle school science education, marine research, and coastal communities.
GPCI Competency: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking; Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development; Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers