Close Menu

    Jan 28, 2021    |   Psychometrics Canada

Has COVID-19 changed our approach to conflict?

2 minute read

Written by Justin Deonarine, I/O Psychologist

The short answer: Yes, it has.

I had the opportunity to analyze the Canadian data that we have on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®). This instrument helps individuals and teams understand their approach to conflict. It suggests that conflict itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing (only when used ineffectively), and that each of the 5 conflict styles has merit.

In these analyses, I compared the distribution of conflict styles prior to the onset of the pandemic against those shown throughout the pandemic.

In an article from 2019, Compromising was the preferred Canadian approach to conflict. Throughout the pandemic, this finding has held true.

However, what I also found is a shift towards styles that require less assertiveness, as displayed in the chart below.


the conflict handling styles assessed by the TKI tool

Please note: The percent changes do not add up to 0 due to rounding

There are two major implications from these results:

People are less willing to be assertive.

It’s hard to determine what the best course of action is right now, so it’s hard to know what to be assertive about. As a result, the styles that require more assertiveness are used less frequently. Those around you may be less willing to push for what they need, in order to come to a quicker solution, or to defer responsibility to the group’s decision.

Groups aren’t striving for win-win solutions.

Collaboration is the conflict style that saw the largest decrease in preference throughout the pandemic. Win-win solutions can take time and effort to establish. Additionally, it may not be clear what a “win” is right now, as it’s hard to define what’s important (due to the constant change).


Part of these changes could be the shift to remote work environments, as virtual teams may experience conflict differently than when they were together in the office. For example, it can be harder to be assertive via e-mail, especially as written communication often loses nuance and tone. Also, trying to adjust to new communication patterns via video chat can make debating and discussion awkward for some to engage in. (Especially as we all try to navigate a way to have conversations where we’re not inadvertently cutting each other off.)

However, is this just another sign of Canadian politeness? This data looked solely at Canadian respondents, so we don’t know if this pattern holds in other parts of the world. While the preference towards Compromising still holds true, the pandemic is a situation that we’re all trying to navigate. Perhaps being more cooperative is our way of compromising.

Complimentary webinar Canadian Approach to Conflict Covid-19 Edition Webinar

The pandemic has certainly changed the way that we work and interact with others. Don’t miss our complimentary 30-minute webinar that presents more Canadian conflict style data collected throughout the pandemic. Register today for the webinar on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 11:00 AM MDT: What is the Canadian approach to conflict? COVID-19 Edition.


To receive more exclusive tips, insights, and resources like this, join the Psychometrics network! 


Filed under: Conflict