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History and Validity of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Instrument History

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) was developed as a research tool by Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann in the early 1970s. The instrument is based on theoretical refinements by Kenneth Thomas of a model of management styles proposed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in the 1960s.

The TKI® model is based on a five-category scheme for classifying interpersonal conflict-handling modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. Thomas and Kilmann ensured that the TKI® statement pairs were evenly matched in terms of desirability so that no conflict-handling mode sounded more attractive than the others.

The TKI® has been used for more than 35 years and is the leading measure of conflict-handling behaviour. For most of that time the instrument was available only in a self-scorable paper-and-pencil format, which made administration easy but also made it difficult to retrieve a large group of client results and conduct analyses on those results. In 2002, the TKI® assessment became available online using The Myers-Briggs Company’s online assessment delivery system. With online administration, data are collected as part of The Myers-Briggs Company’s ongoing commercial operations.

Over time these operations created a large archive of completed TKI® assessments. The archive provided a vast pool of participants from which a large representative norm sample could be developed, making it possible for The Myers-Briggs Company’s Research Division to develop updated norms for the instrument to use as the basis for scoring and determining results.

The renorming project, completed in 2007, is composed of 4,000 men and 4,000 women, ages 20 through 70, who were employed full-time in the United States at the time they completed the assessment. Data were drawn from a database of 59,000 cases collected between 2002 and 2005 and were sampled to ensure representative numbers of people by organisational level and race/ethnicity.

Today the TKI® is available in online and self-scorable formats and is used in a wide variety of applications, including:

  • Management and supervisory training
  • Negotiation training
  • Team building
  • Leadership development
  • Safety training

For more information on the updated TKI® normative sample and implications for use, please read the Technical Brief.


The TKI® measures preferences for five different styles of handling conflict, called conflict modes: Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating and Avoiding. The five modes are described along two dimensions — assertiveness, or the extent to which one tries to satisfy his or her own concerns, and cooperativeness, or the extent to which one tries to satisfy the concerns of another person:

  • Competing: assertive and not cooperative
  • Collaborating: assertive and cooperative
  • Compromising: in the middle on both dimensions
  • Accommodating: cooperative and not assertive
  • Avoiding: neither assertive nor cooperative

The current norm sample for the TKI® consists of 8,000 employed individuals (50% women, 50% men) who completed the assessment between 2002 and 2005. The respondents were chosen to roughly approximate the distribution of organisational levels of users of the TKI® assessment. The norm sample was also chosen to mirror the racial and ethnic distribution of the U.S. workforce as closely as possible. Initial analyses on the norm sample indicate that median differences on TKI® scores between men and women, different ethnic groups, organisational levels and educational levels are negligible in terms of practical importance (Schaubhut, 2007).

Several studies have supported the validity of the TKI® (Ben Yoav & Banai, 1992; Van de Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). Other research has been conducted on the relationship of the TKI® with the MBTI® instrument (Johnson, 1997; Percival, Smitheram & Kelly, 1992), as well as on constructs such as behavioural patterns (Volkema & Bergmann, 1995) and organisational communication styles (Morley & Shockley-Zalabak, 1986).


Ben-Yoav, O. & Banai, M. (1992). Measuring conflict management styles: A comparison between MODE and ROCI-II instruments using self and peer ratings. International Journal of Conflict Management, 3 (3), 237-247.

Johnson, A. K. (1997). Conflict-handling intentions and the MBTI®: A construct validity study. Journal of Psychological Type, 43, 29-39.

Morley, D. D. & Shockley-Zalabak, P. (1986). Conflict avoiders and compromisers: Toward an understanding of their organizational communication style. Group and Organization Studies, 11 (4), 387-402.

Percival, T. Q., Smitheram, V. & Kelly, M. (1992). Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and conflict-handling intention: An interactive approach. Journal of Psychological Type, 23, 10-16.

Schaubhut, N. A. (2007). Technical brief for the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. Mountain View, CA: CPP, Inc.

Thomas, K. W. & Kilmann, R. H. (1974). Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. Mountain View, CA: Xicom, a subsidiary of CPP, Inc.

Van de Vliert, E., & Kabanoff, B. (1990). Toward theory-based measures of cognitive management. Academy of Management Journal, 33 (1), 199-209.

Volkema, R. J., & Bergmann, T. J. (1995). Conflict styles as indicators of behavioral patterns in interpersonal conflicts. Journal of Social Psychology, 135 (1), 5-15.


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