Category Archives: Transforming the Peacebuilder

How to Lead with Less Anger

Do you use an angry voice to communicate or give instructions when a firm, even voice would do the job just as well?

I witness this most commonly in sports settings, where it seems to be accepted that coaches and trainers shout angrily at those they are training.  I’m not talking about raising the voice to be heard.  I mean shouting with angry inflections and body language, to convey authority and motivate.  

Sports isn’t the only place this happens.  Every parent and teacher – and I speak as a veteran of both roles – gets ticked off at the youngsters in our charge sometimes.   So do team leaders, managers, and supervisors of all sorts, working with all ages.   Frustration comes with the territory of leadership. 

Anger is a powerful tool for many good purposes, when used sparingly.  The volume and intensity of anger say “Listen up…!” and often people do.  When it’s exceptional, anger gets attention and underscores a message.

But used frequently, the positive effects of anger diminish.  Anger stresses people.  Eventually they tune out and turn inwards for relief from the bombardment.  Then you have to shout louder for the same effect.  

Worse,  your emotional outbursts trigger similar responses in others.  Drama and disrespect creep into many discussions and become normal.  All communication suffers, frustration spirals, and morale goes down. 

The Conflict Style Framework Offers Alternatives to Anger

In the conflict styles framework, frequent appearance of anger in negotiation or leadership reflects over-reliance on the Directing style of conflict response.  In the chart below, Directing is on the upper left and involves a high focus on task or agenda and low focus on relationship.  An angry person is focused on getting others to do what they want, not on the relationship or how people feel. 

Five Styles of Conflict

That doesn’t sound very nice.  But let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean this style is always a bad choice.  If you can’t use Directing effectively, you’re going to let others down in a serious way.  In order to protect youngsters from getting into danger, for example, every parent, every teacher, every youth leader needs to say “No!” at times and be ready to back it up with firm action.  The focus in such moments is not the relationship, it’s on protecting others or upholding principles, even when this causes angry feelings.

People in all kinds of roles have a duty to place principle and duty higher than feelings and relationships at times.  You don’t want the surgeon operating on you to negotiate with an assistant about procedures.  You want firm, competent control by an expert professional who brooks no nonsense in getting things done right.   They can patch up bad feelings later!

So hone your skills at this style.  You will need it.  But don’t make it a habit.  If you do, it will begin to have diminishing returns and you will weaken the web of kindness and responsiveness that make  organizations healthy.

Four Strategies to Reduce Reliance on Anger

If you recognize yourself in the category of over-use, you can take steps to get out of it.  

1) Treat problems as information gaps rather than conflicts.  As a mediator I am struck with how often big conflicts start out from simple misunderstandings.  Had they been managed as such from the beginning and dealt with in calm, non-confrontational ways, many conflicts could be avoided.  Things get polarize and escalate when you bring anger into the picture.

Treating problems as information gaps requires practice.  Old patterns may pull you back to needless deployment of anger.  To achieve the balance you seek develop these skills: 

  • Purpose statements.  Use of clear, non-confrontational statements of positive purpose makes it easier for others to work with you rather than against you, even in circumstances that could easily turn confrontational.  “I’m eager to get a good night’s sleep – would you mind keeping the noise down?” has a very different impact than “Do you have to be so loud?”  Similarly, “It’s important that we stay together so nobody gets lost,” calmly stated, has a different impact than shouting “Stop lagging behind!”  To create purpose statements you have to think through your underlying purpose and figure out ways to communicate it in positive terms.   Until you get the hang of it, you will have to prepare in advance of difficult moments to pull it off.
  • Clarifying questions help you interact with others in ways that invite and assist them to clarify their purpose and/or needs, without escalating an awkward moment into a conflict.  There’s no catch-all formula for this, but consider these examples: “Sorry,  what’s happening here is not what I was expecting.  Can you help me understand this?” “I’m afraid I don’t understand what’s happening – can you clarify please what you’re trying to accomplish?” “Please say more about that, so I understand where you’re coming from….”

2) Expand your repertoire of skills for deploying influence and power.  A common rationale for anger is that it is necessary to caution or block others from unacceptable behavior.   But it’s not the only way to do that.   Thought and preparation can often position you with different responses that don’t require any anger.

In mediation and group facilitation training, for example, we teach mediators and facilitators to call out rude behavior kindly,  but firmly and early, as soon as it appears.  If facilitators wait until rude behavior has multiplied, confronting it kindly is harder, for the facilitator’s own emotions have now increased.  

With children, I learned that to achieve discipline without spanking or yelling I must lead by actively noticing and verbally appreciating good behavior as much as possible rather than only confronting the bad.  I must take care to back my words with actions, never giving an order or threatening consequences I am not prepared to enforce.  I must maintain on the tip of the tongue a series of clear and escalating responses to unacceptable behavior; my early responses must be small and simple enough that I don’t hesitate to use them.    

Hospitals are a setting surprisingly vulnerable to intense conflict and hospital staff report violence-related injuries at rates far higher than other professions.  To cope, many hospitals now train staff in de-escalation skills.  One of these, in the words of one trainer is “calmly and firmly asserting the rules while acknowledging the other person’s humanity.”  

Those examples aren’t comprehensive.  The point is: Commit to an active quest to be influential and authoritative in ways that don’t depend on a turbocharge of anger.  This takes time, thought, reading or discussion, and experimentation but the results can be transformative.   

3) Use the Cooperating style of conflict resolution instead of Directing

In the language of conflict styles, the skills above enable you to use Cooperating as a response in situations in which you previously might have relied on Directing.      

Directing and Cooperating are similar in that they share high commitment to Task.   In using them we bring an agenda to engagement with others.  We have a mission we feel is important to accomplish.  We are assertive.  This makes both Directing and Cooperating effective styles when we have a lot of work to get done, or a major responsibility we must fill.  

But Cooperating adds something not present in Directing: major commitment to a relationship with those we are engaging.   We pay attention to their feelings.  We send frequent signals that we value them and their goals. We back up these signals with actions.

There is however a key cost you must reckon with in using Cooperating:  settling on a solution takes longer and may demand more emotional energy than Directing.  Unlike in Directing, you’re not just insisting on your own agenda, you’re paying attention to others, their feelings and views. There will be back and forth and a period of uncertainty as you wrestle with finding solutions that keep everyone happy. 

It’s not realistic for leaders to use Cooperating on every issue.  But as others see that you use Cooperating whenever possible, they will be more accepting of those occasions when realities of time, budget, or other limitations require you to use Directing.

4) Circle back later, after moments when you have voiced your wrath, and take steps to signal care for the relationship.  If you were over the top, why not acknowledge it?   If the anger was appropriate, you can still signal care without compromising your principles by extending a gesture of warmth or appreciation.   

I think many people who overuse anger under-estimate the damage their anger inflicts on relationships.   Deploying anger has become so much a part of how they interact with others that they don’t see it as unusual or especially problematic.   

Others can in fact cope with surprising amounts of anger if the over-user regularly takes responsibility to tidy up the mess afterwards.  Just make sure it happens.  Chronic failure to do such tidy up is deeply damaging to depth and trust.  

My Style Matters conflict style inventory helps groups and teams engage in thoughtful discussion about their dynamics.  Check out this infographic on two easy ways to invite users to take the inventory.

 

Pyramid of Conflict Resolution Skills

 

What is the connection between interpersonal conflict resolution tools like my Style Matters conflict style inventory or the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and big conflicts of our world, like ethnic and religious violence or threat of nuclear war?

The Pyramid of Competency shows the many layers of competence required for addressing the complex realities of human relationships.   I’ve used it throughout the world at the beginning of conflict resolution training to locate topics on a map of “the big picture”.  I also use it in helping individuals eager to pursue skill development to chart a pathway for learning.  

If you took my Style Matters conflict styles inventory or the Thomas Kilmann, you’ve already given some attention to the second level, “Interpersonal negotiation and conflict resolution”.

Ponder that diagram and you get some clues about why, despite all the progress humans have made, and all the institutions we’ve created, we’re still barely out of  the Dark Ages with conflict resolution.

Conflict Competency is a Continuum of Skills

One of the most important things the pyramid shows is that conflict resolution competencies are inter-connected.  To be consistently effective at any level, we need a foundation of skill at lower levels.  

When you get good at one level, it opens access to the next higher one.  I’ll illustrate this with my own career.

I spent early years after grad school establishing a new conflict resolution agency.   I had little training for this – almost none was available in the 70s – and little experience. But thanks to good modeling of parents and elders in my life – and maybe to being the fifth of seven children, I had above-average abilities in interpersonal negotiation and conflict resolution.  That was enough to get started.

Part of my job was mediating interpersonal conflicts.  Although I had zero training for this, I read the few resources available and used my existing interpersonal skills to avoid disaster in early mediations.   I was moving up the pyramid of competence!

As my mediation skills expanded I began to train other mediators. This gave lots of opportunities to develop skills in group facilitation skills.  Up another level.   

Gradually opportunities came to work with group conflicts.  Although this was totally new territory, I was pleasantly surprised by how useful my now thriving interpersonal mediation skills were in group settings.   I had mastered basics like starting off mediation with a strong beginning, setting a framework, listening well and getting input from those involved, asking good questions, reframing destructive comments, defining issues, exploring options, working out package agreements, etc.

Also, the long hours of leading training workshops had honed my generic group facilitation skills to a fine edge.

Facilitating group conflict processes required additional skills, for sure.  But the solid core of skills from interpersonal mediation and the group facilitation helped me get through difficult moments while learning new skills on the fly.  

I did early group work mostly in small group settings because my repertoire of skills in large group settings was quite limited.  But that changed as I figured out ways to adapt the techniques and skills I was mastering in small group facilitation to the high-wire of large group facilitation, and add new ones learned from reading and discussion with colleagues.

After 10 years I was ready for a change and was able to arrange a position in South Africa at one of the country’s oldest conflict resolution agencies.  My years of experience as a mediator, facilitator, and trainer in the US and Canada gave me skills desperately needed in a country entering a major peace process.  

Soon I was appointed Director of Training at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town and eventually as Training Advisor to the National Peace Accord, an organization mandated by the political parties to deal with the conflicts that  brewed continuously around the on-going negotiations.   Now I was drawing on and building skills across the entire span of the pyramid!

When Leaders Have Gaps in Competence the Cost is High

As in every peace process I’ve been close to, South Africa had plenty of people eager to assert leadership in its time of crisis.  But few were skilled in facilitating discussion, negotiation, and decision-making processes.   This made things vulnerable, like all peace processes, to one of the most poorly recognized dynamics of conflict resolution.

People think of peace processes as conflict resolution across a table between warring parties.  It is.  But it’s often conflicts behind the table that most endanger success.  In South Africa far more people died in fighting among the various factions of the black liberation groups as talks dragged on than between blacks and whites.  

Wherever there is a high energy initiative for change, whether a liberation struggle or reform of politics or institutions, there is conflict.  Not only across the table between the predictable antagonists, but behind it, brother vs. brother.  Just ask the Palestinians, the Syrian opposition, the ethnic minorities of Myanmar, or the US Republican party, to name but a few current examples!

Like leaders in every other sphere – whether business, religion, education, you name it – agents of change often have huge deficits in conflict resolution skills. 

These leaders may be highly effective in maneuvering in upper levels of the pyramid, for example, where brokering power deals is essential.  But for leading a staff meeting of colleagues, many don’t have a clue about facilitation practices, even basic ones that can be learned in a weekend workshop.   

Or they get into vicious fights with people within their own movement who challenge them.   They claim credit for things others have done, or opportunistically seize positions and power at the expense of their own colleagues.  

The result is chronic frustration and blockage of processes among people serving beneath them and with groups who could be powerful allies. 

Where such things happen it reflects the reality of gaps in competency in the lower levels of the pyramid, often the first three or four levels.  

The consequences can be devastating.   Movements of thousands or millions of people, constructed over decades, are sometimes shattered when organizations fall apart due to rivalries and resentments among key leaders.

My illustrations have been from the world of political change and conflict resolution, but it’s the same in most professions and sectors, whether education, religion, human services, or business.  People in leadership may be widely esteemed for certain competencies.   But many have huge gaps of competency in conflict resolution in levels beneath the one for which they are recognized.

Even Many “Peace Professionals” Have Big Gaps

A big reason why so many fires of conflict continue to burn unresolved throughout the world is because even in the structures of diplomacy and international conflict resolution, individuals with solid competencies in all the levels required are exceedingly rare.  

I’m appalled by how many people I met in my years in the UN who carried mandates to support peace processes affecting millions of people, who clearly had no mastery of basic mediation and facilitation processes.   Or who were driven by personal needs for recognition and control that deeply contradicted their professional effectiveness.

Expertise is Required at Every Level

Every family, neighborhood, institution, enterprise, community, region, and nation has to manage difficult issues.  Even if outright conflict is not present, people have to talk things through and make decisions with others.  People skilled in the competencies described in the pyramid are a tremendous asset in this. 

To be serious about peaceful resolution of conflict, we need to train people at every level of the pyramid.   Five hundred years ago the idea that everyone should be taught to read and write was laughable.  Yet today we take universal education for granted.  

Someday maybe it will be expected that everyone gets training in the basics of conflict resolution, and that portions of the populace will be trained in the higher levels of competency. 

Can you imagine how different a world it would be if governments, political parties, religious organizations, businesses, medical institutions, etc., were led by people skilled in all the competencies corresponding to their position?   When that day comes, we’ll remember today as the Dark Ages of conflict resolution!

Selfishness, envy, greed, ego, and other weaknesses will still be with us.  But at least we will have a chance of reducing the consequences of our deeply rooted shadows.

Back to Conflict Styles Training

So where does conflict styles training fit into all this?  As I pointed out in the beginning, it belongs with other rudimentary skills – like listening, basic conflict analysis, and effective confrontation – down there on the second tier.  Such skills in interpersonal conflict are foundational, required by everyone and essential to success in all the other levels.  If you’re not good at them, you’re going to perform inconsistently as a mediator, facilitator, leader, or president.  

Conflict styles training is a great way to get people started on learning that can become an epic journey of preparation for higher levels of conflict resolution leadership.  People learn about themselves in conflict styles training, but they also learn something else that is a new concept for many:  Anyone can significantly improve their skills and tools for resolving conflict.

This discovery is enough to launch many people on a journey of expanding competency that lasts for a lifetime.

About Personal Foundations 

The lowest level, personal foundations of self-knowledge, self-care, and integrity, is challenging.   It’s hard to describe, measure and teach these things.   They’re the product of a lifetime of struggle, reflection, and learning.  All of us are deeply challenged here.

The schools and institutions currently training conflict resolution experts for various sectors are largely silent about this level.   Little to nothing is said about the importance of inner maturity and wisdom.  Training or support to grow on this level?  Mostly zip. 

I came to see this competency as fundamental through painful life experience.  I was deeply disappointed by encounters with peacebuilders who were neither honest nor honorable.  I was disillusioned by the dawning realization that in many conflicts the inability of peacebuilders to practice what they preach and work cooperatively with other peacebuilders is as big a block to peace processes as the dynamics between disputants.  

I struggled with burnout and witnessed devoted colleagues severely handicapped by it.

So in designing a new Masters Program in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University, I proposed to teach a course, “Disciplines for Transforming the Peacebuilder”.  In the 10 years I taught it,  many students said it was the most important course they took.

In the coming months I’ll be publishing essays from that course.   If you share the conviction that this is an essential and poorly recognized element of preparation for conflict resolution, go to Settings for this blog now  and make sure you’re set to receive posts on “Transforming the Peacebuilder” so you receive those posts as I send them. 

Can We Afford All Those Levels and All Those Skills?

You might look at all those levels and skills, throw up your hands and say it’s too much.  

Actually, it’s far from impossible.  We don’t need to figure out anything new.  We already know how to train people in every skill.  The main challenge is simply that of building resolve to get institutions, schools, professions, and governments to do the obvious at a scale big enough to make a difference.

Those skills bring enormous benefits to those who use them. Listening, analyzing, and seeking creative solutions, which lie at the heart of conflict resolution, are central to human production and to the creation of wealth and social capital.   People and organizations thrive when they are abundantly applied.  

The benefits of systematically building skills of conflict resolution far outweigh the costs. The truth is: We can’t afford not to invest in them.  Every day we pay – and dearly – for the costs of scarcity here.

What are you doing to change that in the realms where you have expertise, relationships, and credibility?

Ron Kraybill, PhD
www.kraybilltable.com

How Does Conflict Style Shape Destiny?

How is a Score Report

I spent much of the last month writing new text for the score report of Style Matters. That’s the 10 page personalized report from the online version of my conflict style inventory, whose numbers, with my reflections thereon, go out to users after taking the inventory.

Commanders in military establishments, janitors in neighborhood associations, freshmen at Bible colleges, and pretty much everybody in between read (and I like to think, ponder) this thing; according to logs on our server, nearly 365 days a year.

As usual in our multi-religious family, I did both Pesach and Easter celebrations. Sort of. But mostly, while others congregated for holidays, I wrestled epiphanies in text on my laptop.

And got new hope and vision as I remembered why conflict resolution continues to grip me. Here my traditionalist and my modernist, my believing and my agnostic, my monastic and my populist selves meet. Conflict, or at least reflecting on human responses to it, remains holy ground to this once Mennonite farmer, now aging peace process facilitator.

Conflict Style Awareness is More than Technique

“Conflict management starts with self-management,”  we say on the Style Matters frontpage.  The lone boatman there launches his journey to an unknown destination, symbol of the journey that peacebuilding can launch us on.

We’re not talking technique here.  This is a journey of growth – intellectual, emotional and spiritual – that lasts a lifetime.

The choices we make in conflict – about what to defend and how, what to cut loose and why, the strategies, defenses, and tools we use in dealing with those we disagree with, how to respond to victory and loss – all shape who we become and the legacy we leave.   This applies to individuals, institutions, and nations.

score_report_snip-300x185.jpeg

One of my long-term goals in the development of Style Matters is to forge a learning tool that corresponds to the richness of the topic it addresses. 

Larger issues of purpose, values, and meaning inevitably emerge for those who contemplate response to conflict and are ready to consider them.  

It’s not for me to supply answers to those larger issues.  But I do aspire, without apology, to devise a learning tool that, as it doles out buckets of tactical insight, fosters awareness that in responding to conflict, in our patterns and habits, over time, our choices shape us, who we become, and the kind of world we leave for others.

Precisely the lack of such awareness blocks the growth and enduring change required to reduce misery and violence in our world.

What’s New in the Score Report

The upgraded report squeezes a lot of additional insight from scores.

For the first time the report now addresses style combinations.  Many people have scores that indicate equal preference for two or more styles.  This suggests special strengths – and special vulnerabilities.

For example, people who score high in both the Directing style (known as Forcing in the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument) and Avoiding styles may be unusually well equipped to function in settings of high conflict and wily opponents.  

But the skill set that comes with these two styles is not very relational.  Such people probably need to make special efforts to build personal relationships. See a sample of part of the text at end of this post for the combination of Cooperating and Compromising

There are ten possible such score combinations in the Mouton Blake framework underlying Style Matters (as well as the Thomas Kilmann instrument, which originally inspired us, first in concept, then as a standard for betterment). The Style Matters score report now provides detailed commentary for those users who score high for one of these combos.  

In the coming weeks I’ll add these new scripts to our Trainers Guide for trainers who use paper and pencil versions and don’t benefit from the automated number-crunching of the online version.

I was struck in writing these with how much insight looking at combinations provides.  So far as I’m aware, this is new territory among conflict style inventories, including the Thomas Kilmann. I’m eager to hear user comments about this innovation!

In addition, we added tie-breakers to the interpretation algorithm.  As a result,  tied scores and the uncertainties this creates for some users are now less common.

Yet another upgrade addresses the question: What can you do to improve your patterns of conflict style use?  I added many practical suggestions for expanding use of your low-scoring styles.

Together with an upgrade to formatting and headings, this is a major revision that expands the size of the report to 6-10 pages.

How to Get Your New Score Report

If you took the inventory in the past,  login now for a fresh read of your report with these improvements. You don’t need to re-take the inventory.   The new report uses the data from your previous take and mines it in new ways. 

The login has been been moved to the upper right of the front page.  If you’ve lost your password, use password recovery under the login fields to reset yours.  After login, go to “Style Matters Online” in the top menu, for options to view, print, and email your new report.  First time users, order here and then go straight to the inventory.

Fiveconflictstyles

 

Sample text on the combination of Cooperating and Compromising

Sample-conflict-styles-combos

You Can’t Delete Religious Extremism


This diagram contains important clues about an alternative to the widely held notion that religious extremism can be forcefully countered. It’s from Ian White, a key strategist behind the scene in stabilizing the Northern Ireland peace process.

religion and conflict

Diagram by Ian White – more readable here – shows alternative to “countering” religion

Religion is deeply embedded in human experience. The goal in responding to religious extremism must be to work with and constructively engage the powerful energies of religion rather than to remove or thwart them, what White calls “countering”.

The latter rarely work out as expected. To the extent that strategies to counter extremism are violent, they share and strengthen the underlying assertion of extremism, that force is acceptable and effective in building a desirable future. Even when not violent, if such strategies fail to engage religious leaders, they are devoid of understanding of the world from which extremism emerges; and thus bereft of potency and sustainability.

Transformation: A Sustainable Response to Extremism

The only option for responding to religious extremism without making things ultimately worse is a strategy of transformation.

Such a strategy works respectfully and knowledgeably in regard to the role religion holds in human functioning and it engages religious people where they are. It actively seeks out and finds common cause with those values, symbols, traditions, individuals and institutions that support non-violent responses to human diversity; responses that exist in virtually all religious milieu, even if not always apparent from a distance.

Because the only realistic goal is transformation, not transmission or domination, such an approach must be a dialogue, not a monologue.

With no exceptions, all who travel and engage the world participate in and benefit from systems that are violent and oppressive. There is no such thing as fully peace-creating people engaging others in need of enlightenment. The best we can hope for is to step forward as still-struggling, partially blind people, committed nevertheless to working actively with others to improve ourselves, our communities, and our world.

And that’s enough. From such a stance we have sufficient credibility that we will find and engage those with a similar stance in other communities. Together with them, we can find transformative responses, things that will change both them and us in constructive, sustainable ways.

Ask Ian White, who quietly called into life and coordinated such an approach in Northern Ireland.

Author Ron Kraybill has worked in peace processes in the US, Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, South Africa, the Philippines, Myanmar, and other locations and blogs at www.KraybillTable.com.


Nothing About Us Without Us

Nothing about us without us


Injustice is a big problem.   But it’s always a symptom of a deeper cause.

Wherever people aren’t getting their fair share, you’ll find patterns of decisions being made without genuine participation of people affected by them.

You can’t build lasting peace and you won’t get justice if people feel excluded from decisions they care about.  That works sometimes for a little while but in the end things fall apart.

If you want to fight for justice, go for root causes. Fight for good process, starting with the groups where you hold power or influence. If you don’t make good process a priority there, your base will eventually collapse and everything you’ve done will be lost.

 


 

 

 

Conflict as Spiritual Path

Conflict_Resolution_Path

Conflict style awareness is truly useful in day-to-day management of differences.  It’s easy to learn.

But not so easy to do!

Easy:  Learning the basics of conflict styles.  Do this in a few minutes with this free “Intro to Conflict Styles”.  You can figure out your own conflict style almost as quickly by taking a conflict style quiz (such as my Style Matters; the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, or even a cross-cultural one).

Challenging:  remembering, in the heat of conflict, to use those great conflict resolution strategies.  We are hardwired by nature with a tiny set of responses when we are frightened or angry: flight, fight, or freeze.  Those three simple responses enabled survival in the jungle and you can witness them any time you want in the animal world.  But they have limited use for human beings today.

To build partnerships and solve problems in a complex world we need additional options for responding, and the ability to choose rather than merely react.  We acquire these capacities, not by relying on instinct, but by thought, practice, and reflection.

Conflict as Spiritual Path

When we are angry or frustrated, brain functions change.  The instinctual flight/fight/freeze brain takes over; the rational brain steps back.  Emotion blots out thought.  We react rather than choose.  Instinct and habit rule, not judgement and skill.

But all is not lost.  In the words of Victor Frankl, the holocaust survivor whose writings have inspired generations: “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I sometimes speak of conflict resolution as a spiritual path and Frankl nails why:  What we do in moments of difficulty with others has enduring consequences.  In the seconds between provocation and response we make choices that shape us and our legacy as human beings.

Here enduring and timeless aspects of our being come concretely within our influence.  Here, over time, in the patterns of repeated choices, we make manifest that which we consider of greatest value.  Here we shape the essence of the soul.

(Similarly, here too, in times of crisis, we witness laid bare for the world to see the true character of nations and communities and their institutions of governance and law. Ignore political rhetoric if you want to evaluate leaders and nations; just study what they actually do in times of provocation.)

You are not a helpless victim of your past.   You already possess ability to choose wisely.   Perhaps in lesser measure than you wish, but you can enlarge it.  In the heat of conflict arise opportunities to do this.

By recognizing you have choices and taking responsibility to reflect on and grow in choosing well, in ways that reflect the essence of your life and being, you make conflict a spiritual path.

Four Choice Expanders for the Journey

1. Take the initiative when there is conflict brewing.  Planning is your best ally in responding well in conflict.  If you don’t plan, you put yourself at the mercy of your emotions and someone else’s timetable.

Planning doesn’t mean you must always engage.  Avoiding is sometimes the best solution – click on the Avoiding tab in this tutorial to see a summary of when and why silence or walking away is sometimes the best solution.  But if you avoid, do it by choice, not from habit.

When a difficult issue is brewing and you recognize conversation is required, take charge of yourself by pondering when, where, and how discussion will take place.   Think through what you hope to achieve in the situation, and what your opponent probably hopes for.  Make a list of your options and possible consequences of each. Then prepare a strategy to approach the other person.  Tammy Lenski and other web authors provide good ideas here.

Preparing and taking the initiative doesn’t guarantee easy solutions.  But it greatly increases your ability to choose and manage the responses you want to make in conflict.

2.  Work on listening skills.  Do a web search on “conflict resolution skills” and you can quickly find quite a list of skills that are truly useful in conflict resolution.  Listening skills deserves to top that list – it is a “force multiplier” that amplifies effectiveness of every other skill.

Do not make the common mistake of confusing listening with agreeing or accepting. Understand listening at its barest minimum, as information gathering.  Whether you decide in the end to smile and be agreeable, or stiffen your back and confront, a foundation of good listening provides valuable information and makes you more effective.

And of course, whether you employ active listening or its more demanding cousin, reflective listening, listening keeps your rationale brain active, thereby expanding your ability to choose.

3.  Practice your lines.  I wish I had a more compelling way to say it.  But conflict resolution unfolds in the realm of words and the best way I know to prepare for a difficult conversation is to practice what you’re going to say.

Let’s say you’re inspired by that concept from Ury and Fisher’s famous Getting to Yes, about separating interests and positions.  What exactly are you going to say to move the conversation in that direction?

Or maybe you can see room to make concessions, but you’re so angry about the attitude of your opponent that there’s no way you’ll even hint at compromise until he gets off his self-righteousness?  How will you communicate this complex truth in a way most likely to bring progress?

I like journalling as a tool to think through what I want to say.  I often write out, word for word, phrases, sentences, and questions I might to use in an upcoming difficult conversation.   Sometime it takes many minutes to figure out the wording of phrase that can be said in seconds.

Maybe my first try at an opening line is: “I can’t believe how childish you are!”  Honest, but not so helpful.  Second try is “I’m outraged about the things you’re saying about me in staff meeting!”  Third Try: “You said things in staff meeting Monday that really got my blood boiling.  Eventually I calmed down, but I really don’t understand where this is coming from.  Could you fill me in on the history here?”

Obviously the third try invites a different dynamic than the first.  When I put the notes aside, it’s surprising how much remains in my head, not only words and phrases but also attitude, ready for deployment in moments of heated choice.

The ultimate way to practice lines, of course, is in role play.  From time to time I call on a friend or family member to take the role for a few minutes of someone whom I need to confront.  Here I try out words, phrases, and strategies from my notes.  Even if I disagree with the advice of my allies, rehearsal increases self-control and choice in the real life conversation that follows.

4.  Try calming techniques.  We’ve all heard of people who instill in themselves a habit of counting silently to 10 before igniting.  Conflict resolution consultant Tammy Lenski suggests additional techniques for mental detachment based on research:

– physically leaning back, which has been shown to help achieve mental detachment

– imaging that you are viewing yourself from a distance, like a fly on the wall

– moving away from the person you are upset with and if this is not possible, imaging that you are moving away and they are getting smaller.

Use This Powerful Force for Change

Call to Deep

By adopting practices of interaction largely stripped of symbols and moments to engage Depth, we cut ourselves off from the most powerful source of energy for creativity, connection, and change available to us.

Are you exploring the power of symbols in your work in conflict resolution and human development?

I am moved by an email I recently received from Samaritan Inns, which serves homeless people. “At Samaritan Inns, during every counseling session, we sit out one empty chair. Every client knows that this chair represents the person who isn’t here yet. This is the next client that walks through our doors and onto the road to recovery.”

That empty chair is a potent symbol of hope. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to place it, or to explain the meaning of its presence. It will be forgotten during most of an intense counseling session.

Yet it serves as a tangible, here-and-now reminder of things every person in counseling benefits from remembering. He or she is not the only one who suffers. The journey of recovery awaits, for all, whenever they choose to begin it. There is hope for things to get better.

As a symbol, the empty chair invokes these things without preaching, without words. It speaks silently, by its mere presence, to the depths that reside in all human beings but often remain untouched.

The Call to the Deep is often abused. All of us have been subjected to people who shout the Call or try to impose their interpretation of it on others.

As modern people we’ve rightly reacted to such manipulation. But we’ve also thrown out the baby with the bathwater. In adopting practices of interaction stripped of symbols and moments to engage Depth, we cut ourselves off from the most powerful source of energy for creativity, connection, and change available to us.

The Deep that resides within each human being (or “beyond”, if you prefer) offers its power only to those who seek it through hopeful choice. Loud proclamations, angry condemnations, and invocations of guilt obstruct access to this place.

In today’s  world of competing narratives we’ve exhausted the power of words to call upon that place of deep knowing where we hear and remember Depth.  I’m quickly bored and rarely moved by verbal strategies to take us there. I’m refreshed, intrigued, and inspired by non-verbal ones.

Movement, symbol, sound, smell, silence.

If you were to place an empty chair in your classroom, workshop, session, or meeting, what would you want it to symbolize?

With what symbols do you or might you remind the people you work with that they are not alone in their pain, that “this too shall pass”, that warmth and love still exist even if we don’t feel them right now, that moments of “better” will come, that forgiveness is possible?

What strategies and practices have you experimented with, or better, built into the routines of your work or life that invite all present to the River, that place of the Deep where human beings meet hope, light, and possibility for fresh beginnings?

Tips for a Conflict Resolution Career

 

Career in Conflict Resolution-2

 

Everywhere I’ve lived and worked, I’ve met people who feel a deep inner echo to the idea of making peace.  I’m a bit mystical about such things. The inner echo is one mark of a calling and I have a lot of time for people hearing it.

But then it gets complicated.  How to get from inner echo to outer action? Sustaining my own call over 37 years and observing others, I’ve learned a few things:

      1.  View a job in conflict resolution and peacebuilding as a long-term objective.

        Almost nobody gets a degree in conflict resolution and then walks straight into a job in the field. You prepare and position yourself, you build experience and relationships, and if you are lucky a path slowly opens. Which means that, unless you are independently wealthy, you need to….

      2. Maintain at least one area of expertise or credentials besides peacebuilding.

        Most people with a job in conflict resolution subsidized their interest for a number of years with something else.   It takes a while to build up experience and a reputation in conflict resolution. In the meantime you’ve got to eat.  Whether law, social work, editing, teaching, web freelancing, pastoring, or carpentry, you’ll probably need something else to live on. This is not a bad thing because there’s more than financial reasons to have a second set of credentials.

      3. The path to full-time work in conflict resolution often runs through something else you’re already good at.

        People in conflict don’t want just any old mediator. They want someone competent in the area of their disagreement. Businesses want assistance from someone who understands business; schools, an educator. Religious organizations want “one of us.” International organizations seek facilitators, trainers, and consultants with deep knowledge of a region or relevant disciplines. So expertise in another area gives you your best opportunities for building a career in conflict resolution.

        Even if you cannot yet credibly present yourself as a resource on conflict resolution, you can still  advocate for creation of structures and processes for constructive resolution in the settings where you are connected. Start a playground mediation program in your school if you’re a teacher, encourage clients to explore mediation if you’re a lawyer, counsel a client in dealing with a conflicted family if you’re a social worker, lead a workshop on conflict resolution for a group of youth if you’re a youth worker.

        One great way to start is by leading a conflict styles workshop. Groups and teams of all kinds benefit from spending an hour or two reflecting on conflict style preferences of individuals in the group. So long as you are comfortable with basic group facilitation you don’t need to be a conflict resolution expert to lead a successful learning experience. Download my free “Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops” for help in designing the workshop.

        In all the above, you’ll make mistakes but you’ll learn fast! If you enjoy it and others respond well, you’ll want more and you’ll find ways to do a repeat. Over time,  more and bigger doors will open.

      4. Expand your vocational goal from mediator to peacebuilder.  

        Mediating is a valuable but rather narrow go-between role, often confined by professional or social expectations, for which there is limited need in our world. Peacebuilding is a way of being and contributing to constructive resolution of conflict that can find expression in any number of roles and functions. There will never be enough peacebuilders because human beings are diverse and therefore conflict is inescapable.

        You might find, if you are, say, a lawyer, that you love being known for handling legal cases in ways that encourage early settlement. An administrator might take deep satisfaction in becoming highly effective in managing staff disputes. Even if you are sure you wish to end up working fulltime as a mediator, one of the best things you can to do open doors for that is to become known in your existing profession as someone with great conflict resolution skills.

      5. Polish writing skills.

        Conflict resolution work almost always involves the creation of new processes and structures. You have to advocate unusual ideas, develop proposals to get approval and funding, draft reports, create summaries. All have written communication at their core.  So at a minimum make it a goal to learn how to write clearly and simply.

        In a world where digital communication influences everything, learn tools for use of visuals in writing as well. You probably already know how to use Word and Powerpoint. What about Canva.com, where you can easily craft killer visuals with attractive fonts and pictures at little cost?  (I have no relationship to any of the mentioned products or sites.)

      6. Learn inbound marketing.

        This is a recent and still tentative learning based on the eye-opening education I’ve received marketing my Style Matters conflict style inventory. Seemingly unnoticed by people in the social change, peacebuilding, community development, and human rights worlds, a transformation is taking place in how businesses reach buyers and clients.

        Many successful online businesses now avoid the loud, attention-getting sales strategies once considered necessary to sell. Instead they invest in listening carefully to the people who use their products. They give away a lot of useful knowledge and services for free. They emphasize collaboration and networking. People come to view such businesses as helpful and trustworthy and don’t need to be persuaded to buy.

        Clear strategies and tools have emerged in the business world with tremendous potential for peacebuilders and other agents of social change. Do a search on “inbound marketing” for resources, many of them free, at least for small users. Two of my favorites are hubspot.com and smartpassiveincome.com.

        Look at Craig Zelizer’s Peace and Collaborative Development Network for a rare example of inbound marketing in the social change world. Lots of freebies there – good ones that clearly respond to needs. Extensive use of social media. Blogging. Networking in all directions. Obviously the site requires revenue and generates some – ads, requests for support – but revenue generation doesn’t dominate.  And no, you don’t have to be as big and ambitious as that site to benefit from inbound marketing approaches.

      7. If you aspire to do peacebuilding internationally, get a foundation in community development.

        The cutting edge in peacebuilding internationally lies at the intersection of peacebuilding and development. Reflect that awareness in your career path and you will be more credible to agencies doing serious peacebuilding work.  The single best career advancer for someone interested in international peacebuilding would be to spend several years in development work, paid or volunteer.

        But do not make the mistake of targeting the large, monied international organizations that are widely considered the pinnacle of international work as your ultimate career destination. You will pay dearly to elevate yourself in such organizations, in currencies that are priceless – the health and stability of your personal relationships (“Consider the UN your wife,” a seasoned UN peacebuilder once advised me, not in jest), your rootedness in community, your hopefulness for humanity, your contentment of soul.

        That is not advice against a sojourn in such places, but rather a caution against staying too long in them or assuming too much regarding what can be achieved there, how you will be treated, and how you will feel about your life as a result of your time there.

        If you like this post, click on an icon below to give it visibility on Facebook, LInkedIn or Twitter!

        Ron Kraybill has worked as an in-residence peacebuilding advisor and trainer in South Africa, Lesotho, the Philippines, Ireland and other locations for the United Nations, Mennonite Central Committee, and other organizations since 1979.  He now resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and blogs at www.KraybillTable.com. Copyright Ron Kraybill 2016.  All rights reserved. May be reproduced if this statement of authorship is included and links are made to http://www.riverhouseepress.com/blog/career-in-conflict-resolution/.

Work Yourself Out of a Job

Transform_ConflictIn my early days in peacebuilding,  I met with John A. Lapp, the executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee.   I had just been “hired” for a one-year stint of voluntary service with MCC to establish a new unit, the Mennonite Conciliation Service.

“Your goal should always be to work yourself out of a job,” Lapp commented thoughtfully.  In the 37 years since, I have often remembered the words of this veteran Mennonite peacebuilder and development worker.  Like a zen koan, they have provided me with layers of insight about vocation and the requirements of peacebuilding.

Conflict Transformation Starts with Encouraging Self-Sufficiency

As modern professionals tend to do, I thought of my work as responding to the immediate needs presented by individuals I was working with.  I thought Lapp meant  that, when mediating, I should seek timely withdrawal from conflicts and encourage parties to develop their own means of working out differences. It seemed like good advice and I sought to follow it as the caseload of our new unit slowly developed.

I was unable yet to see that my mentor, a veteran development worker deeply tutored by life experience working with communities that were both conflicted and disadvantaged, almost certainly had in mind dynamics and needs larger than the day to day quarrels of individuals.

Transformation Continues with Building Capacity to Make Peace

As requests for mediation increased, I sensed a call for deeper forfeiture than I had first understood.  I could be only one place at a time; conflict is everywhere. To achieve our goal of encouraging constructive resolution of conflict in communities and the nation, I should let go of the goal of becoming the mediator and instead train others as mediators.  I loved mediating, but I recognized I must shift my priority to training mediators, a mission I felt pretty shaky about.

Transformation Expands by Training Trainers

I soon came to love training even more than mediating.  But as demand for MCS workshops increased, it became apparent that a still deeper level of relinquishment was called for.   My calendar couldn’t accommodate all the promising possibilities to lead training workshops.  Rather than training mediators I ought to be training trainers.

I began pulling away from doing training workshops myself and sought to focus my priorities around developing others as trainers and bringing them into MCS workshops as co-leaders and leaders.

This was strange and scary in the beginning.  I was used to being in front, teaching.  Now I was often at the back while others taught.  And if I gave away all my training expertise, wouldn’t I soon be left behind, with nothing to do?

Transformation Endures by Multiplying those with a Vision for Peace

Of course it didn’t take long to see that being at the heart of a network of trainers grateful for what I had taught them was even more rewarding than training itself!

Yet even this focus eventually proved too narrow.  Peace in our world requires people with broad and courageous vision of possibilities for peace.   Such people are present in every society and situation of conflict, but often they lack the courage and skills to act.

So the “job” as I have come to understand it in recent years is to find and be an ally to those with a vision for peace.  Some may become mediators or facilitators, but others will become advocates of tolerance, bridgebuilders to supposed enemies, conveners or funders of fellow peace visionaries, professionals in other callings who use their connections and influence to create processes and institutions that build peace, etc.

This is the right “job” for me at this time, I am sure.  Yet it is certainly the loneliest.  I miss the daily comraderie,  the sense of intricate rootedness I felt in earlier roles.   Sometimes I feel that I am floating rather than deeply engaging.  The structures – and rewards – of this new modality are still emerging.

Values that Guide Transformative Presence

At the root of my own deepening understandings of peacebuilding lie understandings of self, relationships to others, and calling that could be stated quite explicitly: You are not in this work just for yourself, to build a great career; you are to be deeply guided by the needs of those you serve.

And therefore: Since your role must respond to the needs of others, it is transitory.  Do not expect or seek permanency. In fact, success depends in part on your ability to precipitate transition wisely, in the service of others. This will probably require relinquishment, letting go of something desirable and rewarding. But that is as it should be, because you have a calling higher than any one job or role; let that higher calling define your role.

To do this requires a conscious commitment to the empowerment of others and a rather substantial personal capacity to contain the ego as the peacebuilder scales back from established roles that are often quite gratifying to the peacebuilder, in order to support others in stepping into them.

One of the moves I feel best about across my career was a decision to step out of a role I enjoyed as Director of Training, hand it to a promising young South African whom I had hired and trained, and continue to work under his supervision.  More on that in a later blog post.

Needed: More than an Iron Bladder, A Hard Head, and a Brass Butt

Dr. James Laue, the twinkly-eyed, pioneering Methodist layman and early proponent of the US Institute for Peace, used to sketch a comic drawing, the “anatomy of a peacebuilder”.  Along with a hard head, an iron bladder and a brass butt, a key element was an “ego container”.

In my view, the field of peacebuilding globally has plateaued.  The field is becoming institutionalized; too many decisions are made on the basis of turf and personal career interests of would-be peacebuilders, ignoring the requirements of transformation and empowerment of  people in conflicted communities.

Holding the goal of “working myself out of a job” helps me create an ego container and locate myself at that intersection of conflict resolution and human development called  conflict transformation.   Here my longings for professional security and accomplishment are confronted by my vision for integrity and transformation of the world.

From this uncomfortable encounter have emerged the most challenging – but also the richest and most rewarding – transitions of my career.

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@ Ron Kraybill, 2016, KraybillTable.com.  May be reproduced so long as attribution is given.   This post is the first in a new blog category, “Transforming the Peacebuilder”, reflecting on personal formation and self-care of peacebuilders and other agents of constructive change.  This post is adapted from my chapter, “Transforming the Peacebuilder”,  in Andrew P. Klager, editor, From Suffering to Solidarity: The Historical Seeds of Mennonite Interreligious, Interethnic, and International Peacebuilding” (Wipf and Stock, 2015).