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The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Strengths and limitations. Alternatives.Ron Kraybill, author of Style Matters: The Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory, reflects on his experience with the Thomas Kilmann and what motivated him to develop an alternative:
"I worked with the Thomas Kilmann instrument for quite a few years in the 1980s. I found it an effective tool to introduce people to basic notions of conflict resolution. It was quick to administer and could be interpreted in as little as 20 minutes in its basics. It was widely used by other trainers so it was familiar.
But I gradually wearied of it. It has no awareness of cultural diversity and assumes a similar cultural background among all users. As soon as I moved outside of white, North American culture people struggled with it.
There are few interpretive materials with the inventory so users depend heavily on trainer input. Many takers complained about the forced-choice setup. "I wouldn't choose either of these," people would often say. "Well, just grin and bear it," was the only answer I could give them.
And the Thomas Kilmann was expensive. Eight or ten dollars was fairly hefty in the 1980s for a skinny little booklet of 12 pages or so. A lot of groups just weren't willing to add that kind of cost to workshops. Today it is more.
In the mid-1980s I was introduced by Barbara Date to the Gilmore Fraleigh Personality Inventory. This inventory gave something the Thomas Kilmann didn't: a lot of practical tips for how to bring out the best in each style of functioning. I used it for several years and really liked the comprehensiveness of it for certain purposes.
But the Gilmore Fraleigh is not really a conflict style inventory. It is a broad personality style instrument. For certain purposes it is superb. But it takes several hours to administer and interpret. I wanted something quick and easy to interpret, and something that was tightly focused around how people deal with conflict.
I decided to try to create something that would blend the best of the two. I used the five-style grid that the Thomas Kilman authors borrowed from Blake and Mouton as a basic framework. Users answer questions that have a spectrum of "very characteristic" to "not at all characteristic." No forced choices! And I incorporated a feature that, like the Gilmore and Fraleigh, recognizes that most people operate differently in calm and storm conditions."
The result was published in the Mennonite Conciliation Service Training Manual in 1990, and has been reprinted there several times. In the years since, the KCSI has quietly established itself as a favorite among trainers around the world, its reputation spread by word of mouth. A large number of conflict resolution organizations and websites have reproduced it, though it is rarely identified as the KCSI.
An early version of that inventory can be taken online at no cost.
Recognizing the widespread use of the KCSI that had developed completely unattended, in 2004 Kraybill revised it, incorporating ideas and comments accumulated from users over a period of many years. In 2005 the upgraded version was published by Riverhouse ePress, titled Style Matters: The Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory.
The new version is 22 pages long, culturally adaptable, differentiating between users from collectivist versus individualist cultures. It contains more in-depth instructions than previous versions and the interpreation section is greatly expanded. It has a lengthy section of tips for bringing out the best in each style. It also has a two-page discussion guide at the end with many questions useful for group reflection. Information on the expanded version.
More about the Thomas Kilmann
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory, also known as the TKI, has been around since the 1970s. The authors, Ralph Kilmann and Kenneth Thomas, set up their inventory along the same lines as Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, who in a 1964 publication on "The Managerial Grid", described a model that conceptualizes management styles and relations. The Blake and Mouton mode uses two axis. "Concern for people" is plotted using the vertical axis and "Concern for task" along the horizontal axis. Each axis has a numerical scale of 1 to 9. These axes interact so as to diagram five different styles of management.
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument uses these identical axes, and identifies five different styles of conflict: Forcing, Avoiding, Accomodating, Collaborating, Compromising.
Style Matters: The Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory uses the same grid, making it easy for most trainers to transition to it.