Case: choosing your approach to resolving conflict


Case Study:

Case: Choosing Your Approach to Resolving Conflict


To evaluate the five approaches to responding to conflict from the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and choose the best approach for any given circumstance.


Joe has so many fires to put out at work and could use a little help in choosing the best approach to respond to them. Here is a sampling of the issues confronting him:

1. Previously, Joe apologized to Maria, a customer, for an offensive remark Tina made. Now, Maria and her husband, Eric, have returned to the store and appear less concerned about Tina’s offensive behavior and more concerned about getting satisfaction regarding the belt sander they claim is defective. They also want More Power to reimburse them for a small medical bill they incurred when the belt sander caused an abrasion to Eric’s arm. While Joe feels badly about Tina’s behavior toward Maria, he also feels there is nothing wrong with the belt sander. More Power’s attorney further advised Jim Talent that they should not reimburse the medical bill, as it could be interpreted as admitting to liability.

2. A customer named Charlie came in and wanted immediate satisfaction of a rebate offer for a pair of garden shears. He claimed that More Power’s local advertisement was not in sync with the rebate program that the manufacturer of the garden shears offered. More Power’s store advertisement said the rebate offer was good during the week Charlie purchased the product. However, Charlie later learned that the nationwide rebate offer from the manufacturing company had expired the week before. Joe expressed confidence that the manufacturing company would honor the rebate when Charlie submitted it with the appropriate explanation. But Charlie was doubtful and, at any rate, thought that going through such a process was inconvenient. The rebate was worth $3. Charlie wanted Joe to pay him $3 from the cash register.

3. Mr. Hassenfuss came in with a dirty, broken-down lawnmower. The mower clearly had not been maintained. Joe doubted that Mr. Hassenfuss had kept the appropriate maintenance schedule as required under warranty. The mower also had a severely chipped blade, probably from hitting a rock. Mr. Hassenfuss claimed that the mower broke down completely last Saturday. More Power should either do a complete overhaul of the mower or provide a completely new mower at no cost. Mr. Hassenfuss presented a warranty document that had expired a half-year before and claimed that the warranty should be honored anyway. He claimed that More Power knew its mower would break down at a prescribed time and deliberately contrived its warranty to expire well in advance. This was fraud, he claimed.

4. Vic Vendor, the new sales representative for Do or Dye Tools, has been complaining about the pricing structure that More Power has been using to sell Do or Dye Tools. He does not fault More Power for this since the problem lies mostly with Axel Rod, the former Do or Dye representative, who was in the habit of making informal handshake deals with More Power management regarding pricing rather than applying sound marketing principles. Despite this, Vic warns that if the pricing structure does not change, Do or Dye may have to discontinue business with More Power.

5. Jim Talent asked Joe to work with Kim Khan, assistant manager for tools, on negotiations with Vic Vendor regarding the pricing structure for Do or Dye Tools. However, Kim is livid about the veiled threats Vic has been making. Joe suspects that Kim is more offended because Kim was the individual responsible for the previous handshake deals with Axel Rod. Joe also feels Kim perceives Joe as a threat, representing the “new guard” within the More Power management structure.


Create tent cards with the words avoid, accommodate, compete, compromise, and collaborate on them. Place the tent card that says compromise in the center of the room and the other four tent cards in the four corners of the room corresponding with their placement on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. If necessary, rearrange tables and chairs so that students can easily walk to each tent card.

Discuss each of the five scenarios and ask the students to walk to the tent card representing the approach they would take to address the conflict. In most cases, there will not be unanimous agreement regarding the approach. For each scenario, engage in a lively five-minute discussion regarding why the students chose the approach they did. Arguments should be based on the level of assertiveness and the level of cooperativeness (or the importance of outcome and importance of relationship) they believe is warranted for the situation. Students should attempt to persuade other students to come to their side.

Case Question:

1. Why can reasonable people draw different conclusions regarding the best approach to responding to various conflicts?

2. For any given conflict, are there approaches that are either clearly ineffective or clearly effective? Why or why not?