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Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument | Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2948 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Conflict is a natural part of life.  It is one’s reaction to it that can make it a positive or negative (B. Thomas, 2019).  The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) was designed to help individuals understand their initial reaction to conflict while reducing the social desirability biases, which influences individuals to rate themselves in a more positive light (Kilmann & Thomas, 1977).  Understanding one’s own reaction to conflict can help build personal awareness, skills to deal with different conflicts, and help understand others’ reactions (Herk, Thompson, Thomas, & Kilmann, 2011).  The target audience focuses on organizations, the workplace, and personnel training (The Meyers-Briggs Company, 2019).  A small percentage of people have used it for education and personal growth (Schaubhut, & CPP Research Department, 2007).  CareersAssesmentSite.com (nd.) asserts the TKI can also be used for couples’ therapy.

Test Items and Format

 Tests come in many varieties.  Thomas and Kilmann designed the TKI to be a 30-question forced-choice format where each choice was seen as neutral (Killman & Thomas, 1977).  The test can be taken by pencil and paper or on-line at SkillsOne.com, the publisher’s commercial website (Schaubhut & CPP Research Department, 2007).  When taken online, results are returned via email and can be downloaded in a booklet that is slightly more in-depth than the pencil and paper version.  The pencil and paper version is self-scored and graphed by the individual test taker (Schaubhut & CPP Research Department, 2007). 



Fair and Appropriate Materials

 The TKI identifies reactions related to conflict (Kilmann & Thomas, 1977; K. Thomas, 1992).  The main concern for language when developing this test was to reduce social desirability bias (Kilmann, & Thomas, 1977).  Discussions about the test’s prejudices, offensive language, or any inappropriate representations are little to none.  This learner searched the databases Academic Search Premier, psycARTICLES, PsycINFO, and Psychology Database with word combinations involving Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, TKI, bias, accommodations, modifications, language, and fair.  None of the articles addressed issues other than social desirability basis.  CareerAssesmentSites.com has a chat function enabling potential customers to inquire about the tests for sale.  This learner inquired about TKI accommodations for adults with learning disabilities and was told there were none (Heather, personal communication, 5/23/2019).  The only type of modification done is translation into other languages.  Supporting documents explain the translations were done with the help of “in-country subject matter experts” and translation consulting firms (Johnson, Thompson, Anderson, & CPP Research Department, 2014, p. 2) in accordance with standards 3.12, 4.6, and 7.6 for a responsibly translated test (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National council on Measurement in Education, 2014).  While it is not an accommodation or modification enabling populations with learning difficulties, it is a modification that expands the audience base. 

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 A detail almost completely overlooked in the literature about the TKI is the lack of a “traditional manual” with the 2007 normative update (Cillucci, nd).  Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (2014) does not explicitly say a manual is mandatory but transparency and documentation are.  The TKI currently has easily accessible documentation such as the technical brief of the 2007 normative update (Schaubhut & CPP Research Department, 2007), an international technical brief (Herk, et. al., 2011) and a technical report of global research (Johnson, et. al., 2014) available through various websites selling the TKI.  All of these technical briefs neglect to cite original 1974 TKI reliability and validity.  Majority of articles this author has viewed uses the reliability and validity statistics from the 1977 article by Kilmann and Thomas, Developing a Forced-Choice Measure of Conflict -Handling Behavior: The “MODE” Instrument.  Buried in the literature is a 2008 article by K. Thomas, G. Thomas, and Schaubhut explaining the test-retest reliability results for the original 1974 test.  Unfortunately, this article also discounts the split test alpha coefficient results and does nothing to suggest another measurement (Thomas, Thomas, & Schaubhut, 2008).  Looking at the dates of these articles, 1977 and 2008, it is clear this documentation was not available when the test was released, nor do either of these articles mention if a user’s manual was available when the 1974 version was first published.  This learner believes not providing a manual with this proof of validity and reliability is a violation of standard 7.0 declaring “information relating to tests should be clearly documented so that those who use the tests” are able to evaluate the test and materials (AERA, et. al.). 

Use of Technology

 The TKI became commercially available online in 2002, enabling test results to be stored in a database (Schaubhut & CPP Research Department, 2007).  When the TKI was renormed in in 2007, it was able to draw from a sample size of 8,000 people from this database (Schaubhut & CPP Research Department, p. 2, 2007).  This large pool enabled the norms to better reflect workplace diversity

Synthesis of Findings

 There are several ways the TKI has been designed or updated to promote ease of access.  Results are scored and graphed in a clear easy way to understand.  Technological advances have increased access via online testing and quick turnaround time for an e-mail with personalized results.  Along with this ease and simplicity it is a very valuable tool for encouraging self-awareness and promoting self-reflection.  It is a good starting point for discussions, workshops, and other activities to promote healthy conflict management (Brown, 2012; Cellucci, nd.; Staskon, nd.).  Weakness revolve around the lack of supporting documentation and clear statistical evidence of reliability and validity.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Research developing the norms has all revolved around employed adults (Schaubhut & CPP Research Department, 2007), although the test has been used for family counseling.  It is not evident research has been done to examine the validity of this use.  Since CareerAssesmentSite.com (nd.) has delineated this as a use it should provide some reasoning or evidence TKI can be used in this manner.   There is none.  Standard 9.4 states if a test is used for a reason other than what is clearly stated by the developers then responsibly for proving validity is the test user’s.  It could be beneficial to see if the TKI can be a reliable test instrument for more personal relationships.

In 2017, the population of employed individuals with disabilities in the U.S. was 7,318,000 (Erickson, Lee, von Schrader (2017).  This is a large number of people who may not be able to access the TKI.  In order to promote fair usage and growth opportunity the TKI should invest in developing versions catering to blind, learning disabled, or other populations of disabled workers. There is no standard or rule that every test should have accommodations for individuals with disabilities, but there is an audience out there for it.

Although the TKI was renormed in 2007, and has since been translated into many different languages there has been no update to the test content.  In 1992, Thomas revisited how he views conflict in the article Conflict and Conflict Management: Reflections and Update.  Thomas admits the cultural era of the late 1960s to early 1970s shaped his ideas, thus were integrated into the TKI.  He also declares TKI is not a model, simply a taxonomy, giving people a language in which to discuss conflict (K. Thomas, 1992).  Standard 4.2 states a test does not have to be re-evaluated simply due to age, but should be updated to reflect “more recent developments on social conflict or individual differences” (Staskon, np. nd.).  It would seem even Thomas’s 1992 reflections call for some content update of the TKI.

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The TKI has its merits and faults.  It is a good tool for real life discussions, but lacks validity as a “research tool” (Cillucci, np. nd.; Brown, 2012; Staskon, nd.)  In high stakes careers, such as nursing, disagreements can mean the difference between life and death.  Using tools to teach people how better to communicate is highly valuable.  Looking at research studies conducted with the TKI this is exactly how it is used.[1]  The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is limited in its audience and use, but is still a relevant tool.





 For articles showing the TKI as a learning tool for conflict management and communication in high stakes jobs please see:

Brown, J. G. (2012). Empowering students to create and claim value through the Thomas-

Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. Negotiation Journal, 28, 79–91. http://dx.doi.org.library.capella.edu/10.1111/j.1571-9979.2011.00327.x

Ogunyemi D., Tangchitnob, E., Mahler, Y., Chung, C., Alexander, C.,

& Korwin, D. (2011). Conflict styles in a cohort of graduate medical education administrators, residents, and board-certified physicians. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 176–181. http://dx.doi.org.library.capella.edu/10.4300/JGME-D-10-00184.

Waite, R., & McKinney, N. S. (2014). Enhancing conflict competency. The ABNF Journal, 123–

128. Retrieved from http://library.capella.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.proquest.com%2Fdocview%2F161654 7229%3Facc


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