Using the TKI Tool for Divorce Mediation

by Ralph H. Kilmann, co-author of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

Although most of my work in conflict management has been in organizational settings, every now and then I have found myself in divorce mediations—because of recommendations from friends and acquaintances. In those cases when I have used the TKI assessment and the TKI Conflict Model (the latter shows the various dimensions that connect the dots representing the five conflict-handling modes), this is what I have learned to date:

Regarding the use of the TKI assessment itself, I have asked each person to fill out the TKI twice with these two modified instructions: (1) Within this relationship, how do you usually respond when your wishes differ from the other person's wishes? (2) Outside this relationship, how do you usually respond when your wishes differ from those of others?

Often, there is a marked difference between each person's TKI profile: In terms of WITHIN the relationship, one person might show high on competing while the other shows high on avoiding. This finding suggests that the one person might feel bullied and thus does not get engaged in resolving issues because it is perceived that there is no chance of being heard and thus little likelihood of a fair settlement. Sometimes, also in terms of WITHIN the relationship, the TKI results show that both people approach conflict with competing, and thus there is no give and take, which means there is little chance for achieving a workable compromise.

When you compare the WITHIN relationship perspective with how the two people respond OUTSIDE the relationship, it's often interesting to see that they do, in fact, approach conflict situations differently when they have differences with other people. This finding suggests that both people are CAPABLE of using different conflict modes...but the ex-couple situation seems to drive a different approach and that is why it has been difficult to resolve their differences (in their past relationship, as well as now). But it's always good to know that each has the skill...if the situation and mindset can be altered.

Once each person has a better idea of his/her choice of conflict modes within and outside the relationship, I then introduce more nuances with the TKI Conflict Model. In almost all cases, it's the diagonals that provide the most heuristic power: the distributive dimension (from competing through compromising to accommodating), the protective dimension (from avoiding to compromising), and the integrative dimension (from compromising to collaborating).

While there is not enough space to say it all here...the challenge is to create the conditions so the ex-couple can move out of the protective dimension (where no one gets their most important needs met) to at least the distributive dimension (where a workable compromise can be achieved). But clearly the best approach is to help move the two people onto the integrative dimension—and thereby a much more satisfying resolution can unfold for all concerned.

I'd just like to stress that in these highly emotional, often irrational mediation situations (where people use spite and fear instead of focusing on their own self interests to approach the situation), just getting people to see the CONSEQUENCES of what they (and their children) receive if they can switch from one TKI diagonal dimension to another is often an "ah-ha" illuminating experience. If you combine the TKI Conflict Model with taking the TKI assessment, these diagonal dimensions become very real very quickly, which can then move people to look at themselves (and their situation) quite differently.

Kilmann Diagnostics offers a series of online courses: (0) Quantum Transformation (a five-hour course); (1) BASIC Training in Conflict Management (an eighty-minute course), (2) GROUP Training in Conflict Management (a three-hour course); (3) ADVANCED Training in Conflict Management (an eight-hour course), (4) Culture Management (a six-hour course), (5) Critical Thinking (a six-hour course), and (6) Team Management (a four-hour course). These courses make expert use of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) and other assessment tools. Since these courses are recorded, they can be taken on any day, at any time, and at your own pace. For more information, visit: Kilmann Diagnostics.