Beansprout Vindaloo – understanding the Thomas-Kilmann conflict model
The Thomas-Kilmann conflict model is a wonderfully useful tool to help businesses and groups think about how different individuals tend to approach conflict in different ways.
However the five terms used in the model, to describe the different approaches to conflict, can be hard for people to understand when they meet the model for the first time. Language on its own isn’t really enough – how is “accommodation”, for example, different from “compromise”? It isn’t immediately obvious.
Recently I’ve been using the story of Beansprout Vindaloo to help describe the five Thomas-Kilmann terms in a way that everyone can easily get hold of. I hope you enjoy it.
The story of Beansprout Vindaloo came about in a conflict I had with the person who is the focus of most of my conflicts. My wife.
We’ve had (at least one) unfortunate problem ever since we met. I like Chinese food. She doesn’t. She likes Indian food, which I’ll eat if there’s nothing else, but it would never be my first choice.
A conflict starts when she sails into the room and says “Let’s have Indian tonight”.
Style 1 – Competition. I compete when I set a firm goal of defeating my wife’s Indian plan. In this conflict, the outcome will be critical to me, whereas my wife’s feelings will be much less of a consideration. I’m having Chinese, and that’s that.
Style 2 – Accommodation. The exact opposite of Style 1 would be to swallow my Balti and keep my wife happy. I disregard the outcome, find what I can to enjoy in the naan breads and bank one happy wife for some future conflict. For extra Brownie points I may even say something like “Darling you’ve been working so hard this week, I really want you to have what *you* want. You deserve it”.
Style 3 – Avoidance. A slightly different type of opposite. With this style I never even manifest my love of Chinese because I can’t bear to have any kind of difference or unpleasantness. I am still prioritising the relationship over the outcome, but this time almost without limit. I’ve forgotten what it is to crack a prawn. I’ll never hold chopsticks again.
Style 4 – Compromise. OK, I say. I’ll agree to have Indian tonight, on the condition that we have Chinese next week. You get something you want, and I get something I want.
Style 5 – Collaboration. The gold standard style. Tell me, I say openly and honestly, tell me what you dislike about Chinese. My wife says, well, you never get quite the kick you get from a Vindaloo, that hits the back of your throat and tells you you’re alive. What do you dislike about Indian, she asks me with love and interest. Thanks for asking, I say. I miss beansprouts if I don’t have them. I love beansprouts. If I had not once seen you I could have married a beansprout.
I look at her. She looks at me. “BEANSPROUT VINDALOO”! we cry in unison. We have taken the distinct elements of our conflict and made them into a whole new thing.
Instantly we rush to the kitchen and start work on our dish. It’s stellar. 10 years later our Beansprout Vindaloo is on sale in every major supermarket in the world.
Which style do you generally choose instinctively? Do you overlook the possibility of collaboration in the strength of your instinct for one of the more obvious options? Is your answer different if you consider your working life separately from your home life?
Meanwhile, back at Harris Towers, we never forget Messrs Thomas and Killman. I wonder if their wives liked Indian food?