Resolving Internal Conflicts

Posted 14 March 2024 by
Ralph Kilmann

4 min. read

Now I’d like to explore a rather atypical use of the TKI Conflict Model, one that often gets overlooked. 

We have a tendency to focus on the conflict “out there” (interpersonal or workplace conflict) but not the conflict “in here” (intrapersonal conflict, or what has been called interpsychic conflict). 

But the five TKI conflict modes can be used to examine how people address the incompatible needs and aspirations of the different aspects of their inner self. Your TKI results, in fact, will likely tell you how you’ve been addressing your internal conflicts and not just your interpersonal and workplace conflicts. 

Perhaps even more to the point: how you resolve your internal conflicts says much about how you address your external conflicts.

Ego and soul

To challenge your thinking and assumptions on this topic, let me introduce the classic distinction between your ego (or mind) and your soul (or heart), which gets at the root of most internal conflicts. Usually, your ego wants stability, security, safety, achievement, success, glory, and lots of attention. 

Meanwhile, your soul wants to discover its true reason for being, the essence of why you were created in the first place, your ultimate destiny, and how you can best serve others with passion. 

If these descriptions of ego and soul sound very different, it’s because they are, and that’s why such a discussion usually generates conflict. If you write down what your ego and soul are asking of you (a most illuminating exercise), you’ll likely discover some significant gaps—usually between living your life to feel safe and secure, and living your life to explore your purpose and passion. Now for the key question: 

How do you resolve these internal gaps? 

Ineffective modes for internal conflict 

Using the TKI Conflict Model, you can use the avoiding mode and avoid the discussion altogether and thereby live your life with unresolved internal conflict, which will continue to drain your energy as well as cloud your mind. Living in this manner may eventually result in a “midlife crisis” or a “spiritual emergency.” You won’t be a happy camper.

You can use the competing mode to have your ego win out over your soul and have your soul accommodate to the needs of the ego, or vice versa. Regarding these two approaches on the distributive dimension, your conflict resolution will then sacrifice either your soul’s purpose or your ego’s needs. One wins, the other loses—also not a resourceful solution in the long run. 

You can also use the compromising mode, which is developing a marginal, in-between solution, whereby both ego and soul are partially satisfied but unfulfilled in all other ways. For example, you’ll work at a job for fifty hours a week to earn a living, though your work is boring and unfulfilling. As a compromise, you’ll devote your weekends to doing things that feel good, like expensive hobbies or trips. But once again, this is not a satisfying solution for a lifetime of long workweeks and short weekends. 

Why collaborating wins 

Under the right (internal) conditions, however, and with awareness, training, and practice, you can use the collaborating mode to resolve the classic conflict between ego and soul. 

What approach to being alive—attitude, behavior, work, relationships, and family life—will allow both your ego and soul to be on the same path? In fact, what you first thought was an insolvable problem of either/or can result in a creative synthesis of both ego and soul working together with the same voice in the same direction. 

For example, perhaps you’ll realize that extra dollars are no substitute for meaningful work. You’ll then find a job you love with less pay, but you’ll no longer need to spend lots of money on weekend hobbies or getaways.

I have found that how you approach your internal conflicts—particularly the ego/soul conflicts—also has a huge impact on the symptom patterns that you experience in life (using one disease label or another, whether physical or emotional). 

As a result, a powerful modality for long-term wellness is to make sure your internal conflicts are identified and then resolved by using an integrative approach, so you don’t wind up competing with yourself or living a mediocre compromise, let alone avoiding those internal conflicts altogether. I also believe that living in such internal harmony will also improve your use of all five modes in your outer world.

Resolving Internal Conflicts was written by Ralph H. Kilmann and first published in CPP Author Insights, 2011, by CPP, Inc. (now The Myers-Briggs Company).


Want more like this? 

Download the 16 TKI Tool Tips for Developing People and Facilitating Conflict Management (free tip sheet download) – this blog was based off of this tip sheet.

Happy 50th anniversary to the world’s most popular conflict management assessment! Visit the TKI 50th anniversary website for all resources around conflict. 

Read the first and second and third blogs in this series:

  1. Cultural Norms and Conflict Modes
  2. The Avoiding Culture in Organizations
  3. The Big Picture and Conflict Management 

Posted in