The Thomas-Kilmann Instrument

The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument or TKI has been around since the 1970s and bills itself as the world's most widely used conflict style inventory.  I started out as a Thomas Kilmann trainer in the 80s and found it very useful.  I got frustrated eventually and developed an alternative, for reasons I'll explain.  But for at least one purpose, you should still use the Thomas Kilmann.

History of Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

A concern of Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in developing the TKI was "social desirability bias", a phenomenon in testing in which test takers answer questions dishonestly.  Rather than truly describe their own behavior, they answer in ways they think are socially desirable.  Kilmann writes in his explanation of the development of the TKI that he and Thomas were inspired by their study of the Mouton Blake inventory, a predecessor to and paradigm for their own instrument.  But the Mouton Blake had a glaring social desirability bias problem.

Kilmann observed a situation in which the Mouton Blake inventory had been administered to managers.  From the way statements in the inventory were worded, he writes, "it was obvious that 'collaborating' was the ideal mode, while 'avoiding' was the least desirable one."  "Sure enough," he continues, "that’s exactly how managers rated themselves, with over 90% ranking themselves highest on collaborating and lowest on avoiding. Their subordinates, of course, experienced those same managers very differently."

Thomas and Kilmann set out to create a similar conflict style test that would be free of the influence of social desirability bias.  They adopted the underlying framework of the Mouton Blake, but designed their conflict mode instrument with 30 questions containing paired statements, each worded to be equally desirable.  Takers are asked to choose the statement in each pair that more accurately describes them.

Since 1974 when it was first published, good publisher support, ongoing engagement by the authors in how to use the TKI, and use of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument in various research projects have propelled the TKI to a leading role.

Limitations of the Thomas Kilmann

So why look any farther?  The following experiences with the Thomas Kilmann drove me to seek alternatives and eventually create my own:

1) The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument frustrates many users.   As a trainer I discovered that the forced choice question format of the Thomas Kilmann greatly annoys a significant number of test takers.  Users are presented with two descriptions of responses to conflict and required to choose one of them. 

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