The 5 best ways to handle channel conflict

Conflict-handling modes
for Channel Chiefs 

Dealing with channel conflict is right at the top of the job description for any Channel Chief.  It’s what we do.  And we love the challenge and reward of dealing with conflict successfully.   I recently took a management course where we talked about the different conflict-handling modes and when to use them.   It made me think about the various conflicts I face growing a channel business in a direct-sales culture.   What I learned may help you leverage your conflict-handling modes more effectively.

Five channel Conflict-Handling Modes

Our management course used the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) assessment to determine everyone’s behavior in conflict situations.  According to Thomas-Kilman, our behavior can be measured in two dimensions; our level of assertiveness (driving to satisfy our own concerns) and our level of cooperativeness (driving to satisfy the other person’s concerns).   Along these two dimensions, there are five conflict-handling modes, as shown below.

TKI Modes

There isn’t one best conflict-handling mode.  Most of us use different modes at different times, but tend to use certain modes more frequently than others.  That’s certainly the case for me.

My channel Conflict-Handling Modes

My TKI score compares my raw scores with 8,000 others who have taken the TKI assessment.  It shows that my two most common conflict-handling modes are Collaborating and Avoiding.  I know what you’re thinking.  I like to avoid problems.  Sometimes, yes, but with reason.  Our coach calls it “tactical avoidance” and it can be used in a positive way, for example to focus on more important issues or let others on your team handle issues to build their confidence and skill level.  I scored the highest on Collaborating, where I seek to build win-win solutions with people of varying concerns and perspectives.

I scored the lowest in the modes of Accommodating and Compromising.   Accommodating, basically letting the other guy win, can be used effectively to build goodwill.  That’s something I may need to do more frequently.   Compromising, also not something I like to do, can be used to quickly come to a mutually acceptable solution.  I scored in the middle range for Competing, which is used when decisive action is required or because I must stand up and defend an uncompromising position.

The best channel conflict-handling mode for Channel Chiefs?

The conflict-handling modes you use as a Channel Chief are as varied as the job itself.  We are dealing every day with internal conflict with our colleagues and executives, and externally with our partners.  As a Channel Chief in a company transitioning from direct sales to channel sales, I probably face more internal conflict than external.   The key to being a great Channel Chief is knowing when to use which of the 5 conflict-handling modes.  Here are some examples:

  • Internal conflict with sales reps. When the conflict is over something that can’t be compromised, such as holding firm on your reseller discount or honoring a deal registration, you can’t afford to compromise or accommodate.   You must stand your ground in the competing mode.
  • Internal conflict with sales leaders. When the conflict is over channel strategy and how to best execute it through market segmentation, the collaborate mode is needed to gain consensus and support of the various executives who must drive the strategy with their teams.
  • External conflict with partners. When dealing with partners, you need to apply the right degree of cooperativeness and assertiveness.  It’s not uncommon to have a partner who feels like they aren’t being treated fairly, even though you’re following your partner program guidelines and treating them no differently than any other partner.   In some cases, you can accommodate the partner by making a peace offering.  In other cases, you can collaborate to come up with a win-win solution.  What you can’t do is anything that would compromise your program.
  • External conflict between partners. Occasionally partners will have conflicts over a deal that they are both chasing.   A compromising mode may be most effective here to quickly find a resolution that all parties can live with.

How about you?  Are there conflict-handling modes you are using too often or not enough your channel role?