Resolving the Four Foundational Conflicts

Ralph H. Kilmann, co-author of the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI)

During the past few years, I’ve posted several discussions on self-awareness, mindfulness, consciousness, subtle energy, and mind/body/spirit modalities. For this blog, I’d like to share with you how I use the TKI Conflict Model to help people resolve their four foundational—inner—conflicts, which directly pertain to such timeless subjects. 

Expanding Consciousness

1. Are you a physical body OR an energy body? 

2. Are you governed by your ego OR your soul? 

3. Is your inner self (as some combination or synthesis of your ego and soul) separate from your surrounding systems OR are your surrounding systems an integral part of who you are? 

4. Have you resolved your primal relationships OR is your focus distracted and your energy drained in the present because you haven’t healed your wounded boundaries from the past?

Naturally, I frame these foundational conflicts in either/or terms in order to emphasize that people often choose (whether consciously or not) one extreme position over the other and thus continue to move back and forth along the distributive dimension, which, at best, can achieve a compromise solution. The latter, for example, leaves your ego and soul only partially satisfied, while you assume little responsibility for improving your surrounding systems (which are then viewed as someone else’s responsibility). Compromising the physical/energy body conflict will also leave you only partially healthy and whole; while arriving at a compromise solution for your primal relationships will still prevent you from being fully present—and thus fully available for your personal life as well as for your vocational life. 

But under the right conditions (openness, candor, trust, love, joy, peace, and compassion), people can move up the integrative dimension and create synergistic solutions for those four foundational conflicts: physical/energy, ego/soul, self/systems, and primal relationships. 

Of course, the worst scenario (which is probably quite prevalent in the world today) is when people essentially avoid these four inner conflicts (often due to ignorance about their existence) and proceed to live their life on autopilot—as dictated by cultural rules, other people’s expectations, a conditioned mind, and ingrained habits. The latter do not lead to happiness and success—short term or long term. 

Integrating Two Types of Organization

Once organizational members have made substantial progress on resolving their four foundational conflicts, they can address the ultimate paradox: How to resolve the inherent tensions between two radically different systems: the Newtonian (Pyramid) Organization versus the Quantum (Circle) organization. With expanded consciousness, the members can integrate these two dueling paradigms by creating a highly participatory Problem Management Organization (PMO). Only by creating and then establishing such a synergistic dual system, will the organization be able to mobilize the epitome of its human resources: consciousness itself.

I believe that by using the TKI Conflict Model for these inner conflicts (just as we’ve learned to use this model for our outer conflicts) has the potential to transform organizational development, change management, and human resource management. In fact, there are several benefits from addressing the four foundational conflicts in the indicated sequence, so organizations will be most likely to benefit from the effective resolution of these four inner conflicts. And then, members will also be more effective at resolving their interpersonal and interdepartmental conflicts, since the inner world tends to manifest the outer world. 

The Synergized PMO

I realize that the above perspective is not mainstream or traditional social science, but I love to stretch the envelope of our profession and encourage people to challenge the many assumptions (often false and out of date) that are embedded in our current organizations and professional practices. Clearly, we need to find additional—innovative—ways to further engage members in the workplace, actively encourage their joy and happiness, and radically improve our highly organized society.


Kilmann Diagnostics offers a series of online courses: (00) Expanding Consciousness (a six-hour course); (0) Quantum Transformation (a five-hour course); (1) BASIC Training in Conflict Management (an eighty-minute course), (2) GROUP Training in Conflict Management (a three-hour course); (3) ADVANCED Training in Conflict Management (an eight-hour course), (4) Culture Management (a six-hour course), (5) Critical Thinking (a six-hour course), and (6) Team Management (a four-hour course). These courses make expert use of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) and other assessment tools. Since these courses are recorded, they can be taken on any day, at any time, and at your own pace. For more information, visit: Kilmann Diagnostics.