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What is the Competing Mode? When Should You Use it?

The Competing Mode is one of the modes of conflict resolution as defined by the TKI or Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. The TKI breaks our conflict handling preferences into five modes.

Because the Competing Mode is considered to be assertive, uncooperative and power-oriented it often gets a bad rap. Sure sometimes a person who always uses this mode is pursuing their beliefs at the expense of others or using whatever power they can to win their position. But let’s suspend final judgment about the Competing Mode for just one moment. There is a time and a place for every conflict resolution style and this means that there are times when the Competing Mode should be your first choice. Here is an example.


Scenario – Your Company is introducing a new policy and it is going to be very unpopular. Let’s say you are reverting from a four day work week back to a five day work week. Your team is really mad and really believes that they should have a say in this decision. How can you best handle this conflict?


This is the perfect time to use the competing mode of conflict resolution. Why? With the introduction of this new policy there is no room for debate. It is not a group decision.

The competing mode will provide these benefits:

Ø Ensures that the position or new policy is taken seriously

Ø Gets everyone through it more quickly and allows everyone to move on


The other modes (accommodating, avoiding, collaborating and compromising) might cause potential damage by requiring more time and energy than is necessary with this conflict and result in a loss of respect for you or others in authority. Anything other than a direct approach may lead people to believe that leadership decisions and company policy are up for debate or only applicable to some individuals.


Getting into the competing mode is very difficult for most people who do not come from this mindset. Here are some tips to help you make the transition.


Recognize that there is a time and a place when there is no negotiation necessary, there is one way to move forward and that this is one of those situations.


Develop a firm resolve. Stop worrying about making people upset or worrying about everybody liking you or everybody winning – this is not one of those situations.


Be persuasive, this means that you are already credible and people have good will or respect for you.


Explain the motives. Why is this the new policy? What is the decision based on and what will it accomplish? Appeal to the shared concerns of the group and be specific and credible. Do not exaggerate or be dramatic to make your point.


Fight fair, yes you are laying down the law, but it does not have to be ugly. This does not need to escalate into a big deal. Stick to the current issue – this is not about anything else but the change in the work week. Be respectful. Do not be impatient, sarcastic or rude – you have had time to think about this, others not so much. Do not bully people.


Listen and respond to what you hear. Even though the policy is not going to be changed based on what someone says in a meeting, you still need to allow people to express themselves and be heard.


Do not threaten people. A threat is a promise to punish someone if they do not comply; a warning is a factual statement of what you will have to do if the person does not comply. For example, “If you all decide not to come in on Fridays, I will be forced to record those days off as sick or vacation days.”


Assert your authority and impose the decision or in this case the new policy.


Reward the group for adapting to the new behavior. Thank them for their flexibility, bring in treats on that 5th work day, whatever you can think of that will show that you sincerely appreciate the fact that people are moving on.


If and when necessary follow up on deviations to the new policy and use tough love to enforce the standards.


It is not always easy to enforce unpopular decisions but you can do it with respect and dignity.

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