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Transforming the Healer – II

Pain Pushes us to Our Own Healing

Those called to work for healing and social transformation of our world must think about two transformations. 

The first is obvious, the mission of healing, leadership, or change we’ve trained for, and on which we spend our days: To call for peace when the masses clamor for war, to build bridges across no-man’s land, to assist wounded people to get to safe space, to build coalitions among those too weak to stand on their own, to be an advocate for the voiceless.

These tasks require knowledge, skills galore, connections, experience, ability to find resources, and more.   Graduate programs of many kinds excel at preparing young people for vocations of healing and social change.

But there is a second kind of transformation that is just as important and just as challenging, a transformation the professional schools and guilds barely acknowledge, let alone touch.  This is the transformation of the peacebuilder, the healing of the healer.

To say others have problems and we want to help is one thing. To admit that in the process of helping others we encounter our own problems and need help is quite another.    

* * * * * * * 

It may be devotion to others that calls us to our work, but it is pain that pushes us to our own healing.  At four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon I find myself flooded with unfocused anxiety so strong I can’t ignore it.   The day was meant for repair projects around home, but it took half the morning just to settle on strategy and materials.   Then came a lengthy conversation with a drop-in friend.

At mid-day eldest daughter needed the family van, which meant I now couldn’t fetch materials for my project.   I did other shopping instead, failed to find what I sought, and fretted in long lines in the store. Now with evening at hand, there seems to be nothing to show for that rare commodity, a free Saturday at home.

And I am overrun with guilty restlessness.  A river of it washes up from the gut. I think of all the things I could have done on this day that might have made the world a better place.  There are workshops to plan, phone calls to make, books to write. I feel that I have failed, that I am not living up to my potential, my obligation as a human being.  Release would come, it seems, if I found some important task and did it. Then I would be at peace with myself and my day.     

What is this all about?  All the years of teaching, writing and practicing on relationship-building notwithstanding, somewhere in the misty inner world of my psyche resides a powerful conviction that I earn my existence through work and accomplishment.   On this day when I have no product to point to, I feel anxious and unworthy, in the core of my being.

This is a setup for burnout.   People who believe their identity and personal value depend on the work they produce never rest.  After all, a sense of self-worth vacillates in most of us. If we add to that unstable foundation the belief that work is a requirement for self-worth, we will labor ceaselessly to steady our inner world.  

And when work goes poorly – as happens in every life at points – emotional and spiritual well-being suffer with it. Then inner pressures push us to set aside everything else – family, friends, spiritual life, even health, in a determined effort to earn self-esteem.   Even when work goes well, we feel that we have never done enough.

How can someone who teaches a course a course on personal sustenance and transformation be so unhealed from a compulsion to work, I wonder?   No progress to show for years of effort? But then I remember concepts from the course. The goal is not perfection, but rather awareness and a commitment to the journey.  The journey has ups and downs.

In down moments we often feel as though we never started. But if we allow ourselves to be “in” those moments by acknowledging our feelings, letting them be and reflecting on their lessons, we are released from them and assisted to move on.   The goal is not to “overcome” weakness and hurt, but rather to befriend them, to be taught by them, and in their presence to journey towards grace and joy.

As we recognize our own pain, and accept the truth of our own woundedness, we open possibilities for our limitations to become a resource rather than a liability.  Our self-knowledge expands our understanding of others and increases our ability to support them in the difficulties they experience. 

So this afternoon I take a deep breath, and think about befriending the tide of ill feeling within.   Where do I experience it physically? I wonder. I set aside thought and focus solely on the physical feeling of the knot in my stomach.   Where, precisely, is it located? How would I describe its sensation?

As I focus on the physical dimensions alone, my emotional discomfort decreases.  Attentiveness to the physical body is a powerful tool for being present in the here and now that opens the way for other kinds of self-care and healing.   

I reflect on where this compulsion to work comes from.   I think about my parents and their ceaseless labor to feed, clothe, and school seven children of their own, plus several foster boys.   I think about the moral burden I carry as a middle class professional residing comfortably on a quiet street in a safe community, with friends across the globe struggling just to survive.  I recognize once again the presence within of a guilt-tinged sense of responsibility to use every bit of my privilege well.

I ponder the possibility of divine presence in all this and recall the beloved old song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”.     What does that mean for me here, now? How could I shift myself towards gratitude in the present moment for the unearned gift of simply being alive and aware?   I smile at myself, breathe deeply and release the impulse to plunge into a big project at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. I will call it a day, and rest.

Pain brings us to awareness of unhealed places, and gives opportunity to acknowledge those places.   It also pushes us to make room for other things essential to the transformative journey, rest, contemplation, relationships and joy.  

The strength for living well and being a healing presence can never come from work and accomplishment alone. It comes rather from the deep and sacred wellsprings of Being itself, a source whose riches cannot be engaged through one conduit alone.  

Whenever we devote ourselves narrowly to a single pursuit at the exclusion of others, we diminish our access to the Source of life. We encounter the Source most fully when we honor mystery in many dimensions. We must work, but we must also pray, meditate, make art and music; we must play and love and care for our bodies as temples of the divine.

Tonight I recognize that my inner restlessness reflects more than the disappointments of the day.   I am in a time of high stress on every hand, with needs of family, work, community, and friends in endless competition.  Struggling to keep up, I have not exercised well this week, nor have I made space for prayer, solitude, or creative activities.  

I find shoes and head out for a walk. As my pulse quickens, I feel tension ebbing from my shoulders. The knot in my stomach begins to loosen.   

I practice an ancient spiritual discipline as I walk, focusing my mind on one simple thing, re-focusing again and again each time my attention scatters on the winds of anxieties.   On this balmy evening I choose the sound of the insects whose song fills the air in an endless symphony to the Creator.

I have used other things in the past to discipline my wayward thoughts – the beautiful pine a quarter mile ahead, a mental image of my spiritual Guide walking by my side, a prayerful phrase.  But it is the insects that speak to my soul at this moment and I choose them as the focus of tonight’s meditation. When I return to the house, I get out my dulcimer, a friend of many years whose music reminds me of a world where hope never fades.

One day, one moment of pain, one step in the journey of personal transformation.   Am I healed? Transformed? Hardly.

But I have chosen responses that keep me in the journey. These responses make me more aware and more insightful about my place in the larger whole.   Being aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that flow in every waking minute helps me make conscious choices instead of responding automatically without awareness. 

Across a span of months, years, and decades, such choices leave an impact.   They support a spirit of thoughtfulness, restfulness, and peacefulness that can accompany us anywhere, including into rooms of angry or wounded people.   They help to find a pace of living and working and letting go that is sustainable for a lifetime, rather than for a few years of meteoric performance that fade into darkness.  These choices bring soul into our work and attune us to guidance from that dimension of being that resides beyond time and space.

For thought and discussion

Reflect on – or better yet, swap stories with a professional colleague about – a time when you experienced personal pain related to your calling that you take as confirmation that a journey of personal transformation is required in order to survive long-term and thrive in your work.   What practices, disciplines, or support did you use to cope?

Worry about Hornets

 

On September 11, 2019, President Trump warned about what America would do if attacked again. “We will go wherever they are and use power the likes of which the US has never used before and I’m not even talking about nuclear power.”

This reminds me of an essay I wrote in 2002, as the Bush administration, equally confident in the efficacy of its superior arms, was moving towards war against Saddam Hussein.

The analysis is even more true now than it was then. So with only minor editing and an update to the present at the end, I republish it now.

My prayer in this week of mourning is that we recognize the danger of trusting blindly for security in the effectiveness of overwhelming force.  If we do not learn from history we are doomed to many repeats of the tragedies we and others have endured since the first 9/11.

* * * * * * * *

A bear hunter gets stung by hornets. Angry, and confident in his firepower, he follows them to their nest. Boom! Lookout, feller!

Defense strategies of the past assumed a world full of bears. But today we are surrounded by hornets’ nests. We could drop any bear in our sights, but who wants to live in a woods full of hornets enraged by flying bullets and an invader on the prowl?

Humanity crossed a chasm in the last 50 years. Technology has placed weapons with destructive capabilities once available only to nation-states in the hands of individuals.

As the mightiest state on the globe, we benefited by being an early developer of these weapons. But now that means of mass destruction have grown portable and cheap and ridiculously accessible, the numbers will increasingly work against us. The smartest bomb will not secure us against a dozen determined terrorists who smuggle in a biological or atomic device inside, say, a shipment of dope. The woods is full of hornets, and their stingers are growing by the year.

Today’s threat is less from leaders of nation-states, who are dedicated to the trappings of power and whose palaces, armies, factories, and infrastructures have nowhere to hide. More and more it is from small bands of ideologues with little to lose and no footprint on our radar. We can handle bears. It’s the hornets we’ve got to worry about.

But why not at least pick off the bears and the deadliest of the visible hornets? The problem with terrorists is that they come from communities who share the resentments of the terrorists. Lucky for us, those communities usually reject the extreme tactics of the terrorists, so the terrorists remain at the fringes. But if outsiders move to engage and destroy the terrorists, community support for the terrorists multiplies.

We’d do the same thing in their shoes. Take an analogy: There are scattered Americans who advocate nuking Saddam. Most of us recognize this as illegal, immoral, and dangerous. We despise the dictator, but we distance ourselves from our extremist patriots and their tactics.

Suppose, however, that Saddam had the military means to go after those American extremists. Suppose he mobilized a large military force nearby and with surgical precision, destroyed the extremists and their families, and accidentally, a few neighboring houses.

Would we say, “Oh, those extremists had it coming, good riddance?” More likely, Americans would rally massively in their support. Saddam might have eliminated certain individuals, but he also would drive an entire nation towards the extremists and their ways of thinking. The principle: External threat increases internal unity and arouses support for those threatened.

It is possible to live well and securely, even in a woods full of hornets, but only if we get out of the bear hunt mentality. Every time we fire a weapon we rouse the entire woods. Even children know the first rule of survival with stinging insects, move slowly and let them be. Beekeepers know something else: you can actually develop a rewarding relationship with dangerous critters if you treat them with respect and see that their needs are met.

Survival in the woods requires us to fully live in it, not just venture out for bear hunting. As our fellow critters come to see that we truly belong among them and hold their best interests at heart, we will benefit from a source of security essential in an environment of multiple threats: friendship and goodwill.

Yes, we can keep our weapons at hand. Bears still lurk here. But we will be wise to see the danger we create from the hornets aroused with every shot at a bear. We will be wise to occupy 95 percent of our energies with the less dramatic but ultimately more security-building tasks of building trust with our fellow creatures.

* * * * * * * *

Update in 2019: The insight that has often eluded American policy planning in the post 2001 era is that current struggles will be won or lost not just at a military level between the US and the “bad guys”, but at a relational level. Responses that are only – or even mostly – focused on military destruction of extremists backfire. Collateral damage of military responses is almost always high, not just in property and lives, but also in outrage at foreigners waging war on domestic soil. And after the bombs, then what?

Rather than once again grabbing sledgehammers, what would it look like if world leaders applied the full toolkit of human strategies for change and development to the complex web of dynamics that have birthed extremists? Suppose our principle were that for every dollar invested in military responses, another dollar also will be invested in economic, educational, health, and human rights advancement among relevant populations, and that leaders in religion, business, education, youth, and women will be key consultants and targets of influence?

It would be slow, messy, and often wasteful, like every strategy for change. But if we rely on sledgehammers, it will all get worse and worse and worse.

Ron Kraybill is a peacebuilding trainer and consultant based in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has 30 years of experience in South Africa, Lesotho, India, Ireland, and other locations, for the UNDP, Mennonite Central Committee, and other organizations.

Homework on Conflict Styles

 

Life spares none from conflict.

But unfortunately the word has not yet reached the schools that train professionals.

 
Name the profession – engineering, teaching, business, social work, lawyer, religion, medicine, whatever.   It’s a rare academy that offers training in how to navigate the conflicts that come with practice of that profession.
 
Even callings you might think of as peaceful have plenty of conflict. Some years ago a well-recognized seminary did followup with its graduates to assess how well its Masters program in religious leadership had equipped them for their congregational leadership.   The number one complaint?  Lack of preparation for conflict.   
 
Speaking from several years of experience, graduates wrote that they had no clue from their seminary preparation that dealing with conflict would be such a prominent aspect of religious leadership.
 
So what to do?  Even you want to address this gap, it may be hard to press another topic into an already packed schedule of lectures.   This post is for professors and teachers, trainers and consultants who see the need for students to reflect on conflict resolution but don’t have the space to include it in classroom work.
 
Here’s three assignments to choose from.  Each takes students into a valuable learning experience on their own, without requiring you to lecture or even to have a class discussion on the topic.
 
Setup: Students begin each of the three assignments that follow by taking Style Matters Online.  Instruct them to read their score report carefully and spend, say, 20 minutes clicking links in the report to resources that interest them on the Riverhouse website.   (These include a tutorial, summaries of strengths and weaknesses of each style, essays on anger management, apology, conflict and culture, and much more.) Pick out an exercise from the ideas below and assign it to your students to do on their own.  I invite you to adapt and present them as your own.

Assignment: Write a Reflection Paper

A simple but immensely useful exercise is for students to write a paper reflecting on their score report. 
 
Text of the assignment: Write a paper reflecting on your score report (at college or university level, I’d suggest 1500-3000 words in length).   Use the score report as a resource in writing if you agree with the report.  If you do not, draw on your own best self-assessments.   
  • When you are in Calm conditions, that is, when differences have just surfaced and emotions are not yet high, which conflict style or styles are you most likely to use? What are the strengths of this style or styles? What are the dangers of over-using this style?
  • When you are in Storm conditions, that is, when previous efforts to resolve a conflict haven’t worked and emotions have escalated,  which conflict style or styles  are you most likely to use? What  are the strengths of this style or styles?  What are the dangers of over-using it?
  • Drawing on the feedback in the score report and/or your own reflections, what do you see as personal growth areas for yourself in improving your conflict management abilities?
Notes to trainer: Depending on how big you’d like your assignment to be, a useful addition to the above is to ask students to connect their reflections to an actual situation.   For example, you could add a sentence to the first two areas of reflection above: Give an example from real life experience that illustrates your behavior.  
 
In the third area, you could add this sentence: Name a situation in which you expect your efforts at growth to be challenging.   Describe how your past behaviors would cause you to act and then describe what you would like to do differently in this situation in the future that would reflect personal growth for you.  

An additional task you could add to that list is to have students discuss their score report with someone who knows them well. The assignment could read:  Discuss your score report with someone who knows you well and whom you trust – a family member, friend, or colleague.  Invite this person to comment from their general observations of you.  Using the report as a resource, what do they see as your strengths in conflict?  What do they think might be “growing edges” for you in strengthening your responses to conflict?  Summarize your learnings in the essay.

Assignment: Apply Conflict Styles Framework to a Personal Conflict

In this assignment students write an account of a conflict they’ve been involved in, using the conflict styles framework to describe what was going on.    
 
Text of the assignment: Write a reflection paper applying conflict styles insights to a conflict in which you were involved that was distressing for you.  
  • Which conflict style or styles did you use?   Did this change over time?   If so, why, and how did this change in style alter the dynamics of the conflict?  
  • Do you see in retrospect that you under-used or over-used certain styles?  
  • Are there any tips (see the list of Support strategies suggested for your high-scoring Storm styles in the report) that, if the other person had followed, might have assisted you to function better?   
  • Choose another person who was central in this conflict and comment:  What style or styles was this person primarily using?  How did you respond to this style?   Can you offer any tips  for yourself (based on this experience and/or what you’ve learned about conflict styles) about what to do or not to do that might enable you to achieve a better outcome with this conflict style in the future?

Assignment: Discuss Conflict Styles in Study Group or Work Team

Whereas the above assignments are for individuals, here’s a learning exercise for a group, such as a study group or a work team.
 
Text of the assignment: Take the Style Matters conflict style inventory and print out the score report.  Read it on your own and underline things you think are especially valuable in understanding you.    If you disagree with the scores revise them in the chart on the first page of the report to reflect what you think is more accurate.
 
Bring your marked up score report to your group session.  Go around the group with the questions below, one question at a time, giving each person about 5 minutes to comment in each round.  If your scores are equal or nearly equal in several styles, should choose one style to highlight in responding to each question.  If you get stuck answering any of the questions, feel free to call on others to assist you in answering.
  • My Calm style of dealing with conflict is…..  Benefits of this style for me are….  Benefits for others when I use it are….     Dangers or costs of overusing this style are……..
  • My Storm style of dealing with conflict is…. Benefits of this style for me are….  Benefits for others when I use it are….     Dangers or costs of overusing this style are……..
  • Things that others around me can do when there is conflict that will meet my conflict style preferences and make it easier for me to function at my best are…..  (As a resource for this, review the sections of the report titled “Support Strategies”)
  • Something useful I’ve learned from our discussion here about how others function in conflict is that……

* * * * * * * *

I would love to hear your ideas for effective learning experiences outside of the classroom!  Please send them to me at center@riverhouseepress.com.   With your permission, I’ll publish the best ones here. 

For discussion questions and exercises in workshop settings, see my essay, Suggestions for Reflection and Learning with Others About Conflict Styles.  And of course you’ll find detailed guidance on leading a workshop – if you decide to go that route – in my free downloads  “Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops and Training with Style Matters Online Version.

 

By Ron Kraybill, author of the Style Matters conflict style inventory and a blog KraybillTable.com.   You may use or reproduce these exercises for classroom training purposes but all rights are reserved by the author.   For publications, please contact the author for permission.

 

Lead without Bullying

We’re reading a lot these days about leaders who bully. 

In “When the Boss is a Bully”, a recent NY Times article points out that aggressive toughness has its rewards.  Some people like the idea of a very task focused leader.   Better to have a leader who gets the job done, albeit rudely, than one who nicely fails to deliver. 

People tend to extend the benefit of any doubt to a leader who acts decisively, according to research cited in the Times article.  One researcher calls this the “leader’s rosy halo” effect, a tendency for others to fall back and follow someone who is bold, decisive, and confident.  There is no evidence pushy leaders offer better solutions than anyone else, but others are attracted to decisiveness and tend to follow.  

  
Conflict Styles and Strong Leadership

A key concept in the conflict styles framework is that every conflict style has strengths and weaknesses.  We need all five styles.   Don’t write off toughness just because it’s not nice.

I learned this the hard way in my twenties when I found myself regretting I had not been more firm with my dog in training.  One day she ignored my call, as she often did.  She ran onto a road, and died under a car.   

Parents learn that there are moments when failure to be strict is to put a child’s life or well-being at risk.  And in a health emergency, we want a doctor who takes charge and give orders to co-workers, not one who dallies in nice dialogue with colleagues. 

Every one has moments when insisting on something, without worrying about relationships or feelings of others, is the only right response.  We should all cultivate the ability to be tough on demand for such moments.  We should value leaders who can do that when duty requires it.   

But toughness is an asset only in occasional doses.  As a habit, a primary way of interacting, it’s a liability whose damage grows with time. 

In organizations, the costs of over-use by leaders can be vast.  Competent, loyal individuals leave, teamwork deteriorates, aggressiveness spreads like a virus into all levels of the institution, morale plummets.

Costs often take a while to become evident.  By the time they are acknowledged, the damage is huge and recovery slow.

How to Maintain a Wise Balance

Are you a leader who’s pushy at times?  I hope so. You may not be doing your job if your answer is never.  But do you hold a healthy balance between pushing and nurturing? 

Here are suggestions, drawn from the score report of my Style Matters conflict style inventory, for using the goal-oriented Directing conflict style (in the Thomas Kilmann instrument, Forcing) wisely, without falling into overuse:

  • Increase your context awareness. Directing is a gift where strong coordination and direction from one person are essential. It’s a requirement occasionally, not all the time. Where partnership, equality and consultation are expected, others resent over-use of Directing. Recognize this and you will avoid the Achilles Heel of this style. Read the settings you are in and adapt accordingly. When in doubt, dial back on Directing instincts. You can ratchet up assertiveness later if required, whereas relationships may never recover from the resentment you will cause if you misjudge circumstances and impose yourself inappropriately.
  • Expand your skills in other conflict styles so you need not rely more than necessary on Directing. In particular, master the skills of the Cooperating style which, like directing, is assertive, but adds relational skills. For example….
  • Hone skills in listening well. Being a good listener rarely detracts from the ability to act decisively when necessary and  the info gained increases your ability to make good decisions. Plus, if you are a good listener, others are more likely to experience you as having strength tempered by wisdom rather than as simply pig-headed.
  • Work on relationships. Look for opportunities to support, affirm, appreciate others.  Read Support Strategies for specifics on how to support each of the other styles. The Support Strategies for Cooperating, Harmonizing, and Avoiding will be especially useful info for you, for they guide in doing things that many high-energy Directors never realize others need. 
  • Be in charge in ways that respect and honor others. Being both strong and supportive towards others is an art that requires practice. Pay close attention to your tone of voice and body language, for much is communicated by these.  If in doubt, request feedback from people you trust who are not subject to you.   
  • Consult where possible. Invite input from others and incorporate as much as you can into your work. Doing this does not remove your authority to make final decisions. The skills described above take time and effort to develop, but you can start consulting immediately. Remember, consulting is not negotiating. View it as a time to listen, learn, and gather input (about both the issues and about how people are experiencing the discussion process), not as a time to persuade. 

Take my Style Matters conflict style inventory and get practical suggestions tailored to your own unique blend of conflicts here.  80% of users say they’d recommend it to others. We’ll cheerfully refund the $8 cost if you’re not fully satisfied.

New Trainers Guides

If you’re interested in leading conflict styles training, download my 2019 trainers’ guides with a single click below.   To get notice future updates and my blog posts for conflict styles trainers, sign up on the lower right to the trainers list.  I post only a few times per year and I won’t share your email address!

Comprehensive Guide.  My comprehensive Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops is now in its 4th edition.  The 2019 update  is the same as previous editions, now newly edited for clarity and ease of use.  The 40 page guide provides detailed guidance for training with Style Matters (or the Thomas Kilmann or other inventories based on a similar five styles framework) and many suggestions for presenting information and leading discussion.  Download the Trainers Guide in PDF free here.

Guide to Online Version. We’ve also just released a 10 page companion piece, Trainers Guide to Style Matters Online. Whereas the above guide provides detailed guidance on all aspects of conflict styles training,  this short guide focuses narrowly on work with the online version of Style Matters.  If refers often to the full guide, so you should have both. Download the online training guide here.

 
A key part of the Riverhouse mission is to enable anyone with basic group facilitation skills to lead an effective learning experience on the topic of conflict styles. 
 
Every person, every organization, and every community faces conflict throughout the life cycle.  Failure to equip people to deal constructively with conflict is, we believe, one of the greatest obstacles to human well-being.  Addressing this gap is an achievable opportunity for every organization and community to improve the quality of life in fundamental ways.
 
These trainers guides are central to our mission of supporting trainers on a large scale to address this glaring learning gap.
 

Thomas-Kilmann, Hammer’s ICSI, or Style Matters?

Trainers considering Style Matters as a conflict style inventory should be aware of two other options as well, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and the Hammer Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory.   Style Matters has been optimized for the majority of conflict resolution trainers.  But a percentage of trainers might benefit from a specialized tool.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Optimized for psychometrics. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, also known as the TKI, was developed in the 1970s with a priority on psychometric validation.

The Thomas-Kilmann is noted for its commitment to psychometrics, reflected in its commitment to the use of a question format that forces users to choose between only two possible options in responding. Although some users find this format annoying, authors Thomas and Kilmann retain it because it results, they say, in more accurate data.   For a description of my own experience with the TKI, see my blog post on it.

If psychometrics is your over-riding concern, and issues such as user friendliness, cultural flexibility, and cost have little bearing for you, the Thomas-Kilmann is probably the right choice.

Cost is $19.50 per user.   A trainer’s guide is available for $250.  

The Intercultural Conflict Styles Inventory

Optimized for cultural analysis.  The purpose of Mitch Hammer’s Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory is building capacity to understand cultural differences and do conflict resolution across cultures. Its questions and interpretive frameworks all revolve around this.  If that’s your primary objective, there’s no better tool.  The ICSI ranges in price from $16-$22 per user.

Style Matters

Optimized for Learning.  As a trainer with academic background and deep commitment to building cross-cultural understanding, I care about psychometrics and cultural issues. But for me and, I believe, most trainers using Style Matters, those are not the key priorities in training.

I’m not interested in making definitive pronouncements about how people function in conflict and I discourage trainers from this.  Rather, I want to give people a framework for evaluating dynamics of conflict, reviewing options, and making wise choices.   For that purpose, trust in the tools of learning is a more important requirement than supreme psychometric reliability.  That means arranging questions in ways that are not off-putting to users.

Nor am I interested in full-blown cultural comparison in most of the training I do.  I simply need a conflict resolution training tool that people from a variety of cultural backgrounds feel comfortable with.

In developing Style Matters, I prioritized teaching effectiveness. I needed a tool that I could rely on in all kinds of settings to give learners a high quality learning experience. I wanted a simple, powerful tool to help learners think through their options in conflict, that gave highest authority to self-reflection, discussion, and feedback from others rather than to “rock-solid metrics”. And it needed to be cost affordable to all the groups I worked with.

Although I had used the Thomas-Kilmann for several years and experienced its usefulness, I was frustrated by the resistance I regularly encountered around the wording of questions. I was also troubled by the discomfort of many participants from backgrounds outside the white, educated North American backgrounds of its authors. You can read more about this in my essay here.

Durable training tools mature and improve as authors revise them based on experience.  The themes we’ve worked relentlessly to improve are: 

  • accessibility and familiarity for users (in order to build trust and credibility in the results)
  • cultural flexibility (achieved by offering users two different ways to frame questions)
  • stress responsiveness (achieved by scoring users in both Calm and Storm conditions)
  • clarity and simplicity of wording
  • ease of use for trainers (achieved by providing free high-quality trainer guides)
  • affordability (priced at about a third the cost of the TKI and ICSI)

Independent researchers did psychometric evaluation of Style Matters in 2007 and helped us tweak it for psychometric validity and reliability.  But we signal users throughout that their own self-assessment and the feedback of those who know them well are what really count in determining their patterns.  Numbers on a test are the first stop on a journey of self-awareness; they should not be considered the final destination.   

Buy Style Matters here.

 

Talk to Your Angry Uncle

If like millions of other Americans, you will eat turkey on the holidays with family members on a different location on the political spectrum than you, take a look at this interactive New York Times essay with suggestions for how to manage.

For an idea of how many people struggle with this, read the Comments suggestion! For an idea of how many people struggle with this, read the Comments section following the essay!   

Many commenters suggest avoidance, a response we recognize and respect in the Style Matters conflict style inventory.  Some don’t even go to family gatherings anymore because they’re too contentious.  Total avoidance is an extreme response I find hard to justify except for extreme situations.  

Others counsel diligent avoidance of certain topics, a wise response if the emotional maturity and skill required on at least one side for useful exchange are missing.

This author offers a series of practical suggestions for gentle engagement, set in the context of a bot that the reader interacts with, choosing recommended responses.   Readers point out that the angry uncle turns soft too easily in the essay, a fair point.  But the techniques are still worth knowing and exploring – you’ll use them with a partner or child or friend someday even if they aren’t right for quelling Uncle Bluster!

But even if your uncle never gets past red-faced windiness, you can’t lose if you set your sights realistically.  Forget trying to change him.  Commit to learning something new about his views or about him.  And choose to learn about yourself in the process.

Join our Training Series

Want to lead a conflict styles workshop? Join me on November 21 for the first in a series of short webinars, Training with the Style Matters Conflict Style Inventory, I’m leading for trainers.
 
Scheduled for 11am Eastern time on Wednesday, the 21st of November, this thirty minute introductory webinar is for anyone considering Style Matters for training purposes and for current users wanting to update their knowledge.  It will enable you to:
  • choose among several options available for the format and method right for you and your setting;
  • design and lead a conflict styles workshop corresponding to your existing skills; 
  • equip yourself with resources for effective presentation of concepts
I’ll give input for about 15 minutes and we’ll have about 15 minutes open for questions.
 
Topics in future webinars will include:
  • interpreting scores
  • use of movement to raise energy and engagement in workshops
  • cross-cultural issues in conflict styles training and how to address them with Style Matters
  • creating assignments and other followup activities to expand the window of learning
As the first run of this series we’re offering this free.  Seats are limited.   Register now! 
 
Enter your name and email address and you will then receive a confirmation email with info for joining the webinar on the 21st.
 
 

Career in Conflict Resolution?

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. An 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:

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 fortunate a path opens. Usually slowly. Which means that, unless you are independently wealthy, you need to….

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 at all. There’s more than financial reasons to have a second set of credentials.

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.

You’ll make mistakes, of course, 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.

Expand your vocational goal from mediator to peacebuilder. 
Mediating is a narrow go-between role, often constricted 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.

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, commit yourself to the hard work involved in learning how to write clearly and simply.

Figure out ways to bring visual and spatial interaction into your work
I learned early in group work that anytime I could figure out a way to enable people to move and locate themselves physically in relationship to the work we were doing, transformative things happened. I figured out a small kit of tools (Spectrum, Fisbbowl, Samoan Circle, Talking Stick, etc.) that I got good at using on a moments notice and can easily incorporate into whatever work I do – whether planning, group dialogue, or business meetings. You will get farther in your career if you master your own small kit. Get my compact Cool Tools for Hot Topics for a quick $5 how-to, but there’s lots out there free on the web.

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.)

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 worlds of social change, peacebuilding, community development, and human rights, 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.

Get a foundation in community development.
 This is especially true if you aspire to international work. 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 senior UN peacebuilder once advised me, not in jest), your rootedness in community, your peace of mind about structures of our world, your contentment with your soul.

This is not advice against a sojourn in such organizations, 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. Go with your eyes wide open and pay attention to what is happening in your heart over time.

Copyright Ron Kraybill 2016. All rights reserved. May be reproduced so long as this statement of authorship is included and links are made to http://www.riverhouseepress.com/blog/career-in-conflict-resolution/.

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, trains and consults in support of national peace processes, blogs at www.KraybillTable.com and publishes the Style Matters conflict style inventory at riverhouseepress.com. 

 

Two-Step to Prioritize Relationship

Two-Step-Conflict-Resolution

A great move for improving your effectiveness in conflict is mastering the two-step discussion process. This is a strategy so simple that you might say, “Isn’t it obvious?” No, it’s actually not, especially to task-oriented people like me.  But in the right setting, it’s a gamechanger.

In a large institution where I worked for many years, I heard stories about the facilities manager.  Kathy was an annoying and inflexible nitpicker, I was told.  Everyone had a story – we all had to work with her to arrange space and technical support for our meetings and workshops.

Months after I arrived, I too had my moment with Kathy.  I needed access to meeting rooms at unusual hours.  This required a special key – which she tightly controlled.   I also needed permission to bring in special equipment.

How to Use the Two Step

In a situation like this, the two step approach is one of the first to consider.  There’s important problems requiring this person’s help, and reports of dicy relationships.  The two steps comes in several forms and I’ll write about those in other posts.  Here I decided on this: 
     Step One:  Take steps to establish or affirm the relationship.
     Step Two:  Engage in problem-solving or task activity.

That’s not the way I would naturally approach someone.  When I have a lot of work to do I am task-focused.  It would have been natural for me to skip Step One entirely, that is, to dash into Kathy’s office, say a hasty good morning, and plunge straight into presenting my list of requirements. 

Which First, Task or Relationship?

Even if I managed to do it in a cordial way, that would not be conflict style aware.  Everybody has  patterns they prefer for how to go about solving problems.  A key place where preferences differ is task versus relationship.  Which is more important? 

In conflict style frameworks (eg: my own or the similar Thomas Kilmann inventory), giving priority to relationships indicates a conflict style quite different than when we give priority to getting a job done or achieving a goal.

An awful lot of needless conflict exists simply because people aren’t conscious of their own conflict style preferences and therefore don’t have a clue about how to work with the conflict style preferences of others.  If I had approached Kathy in my usual task-focused way, it’s likely that I would have walked out a few minutes later muttering the same things everyone else said about inflexible Kathy.

But I know myself and my tendencies.  I decided to make a guess at Kathy’s.  How could I lose by leading with friendliness?  When I arrived at Kathy’s office I was ready with a strategy:  I opened by mentioning our recent email exchange.  I said I was happy to put a face to the name and that she had a reputation for keeping the facilities well-organized and knowing where to find things.  

My colleagues, of course, thought she was a control freak, a functionary who enjoyed the power of her keys.   Walking to her office, I’d been searching for something positive I could say.  It occurred to me that there really is a good side to tight management and that I could probably figure out a way to sincerely complement her on it.

It worked.  She smiled and said it drove her crazy keeping track of everything.  I commiserated and said we’re all lucky I didn’t have her job because I’d lose everything in a week.  She smiled about that too.

Now it was easy to get down to serious business.    She listened carefully to my needs, booked the off-hours rooms without hesitation, went over the policy on off-hour facilities, and told me when to come and get the key.   

The fabled Kathy, my ally!  Cost to me? Caring enough to try, a few minutes of forethought, and three minutes of chit-chat.  In the years that followed, every request I made of her sailed across her desk.  I simply made a point, whenever we talked, to start with chit-chat for the first couple of minutes.

It’s probable that, like Kathy,  a significant percentage of the people with whom you live and work are wired with a strong inner sense that relationships come first, then tasks.  There are cultures, of course, where it would be rude not to begin nearly every conversation with small talk.  But even there, some individuals are wired with a stronger expectation than others to connect before turning to tasks.

Connection to Conflict Styles (Style Matters and Thomas Kilmann inventory)

For more details on how task and relationship relate to conflict styles, view my “Intro to Conflict Styles” slideshow.  Almost everyone who scores high in the Harmonizing conflict style of my Style Matters inventory  (the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory calls it the Accommodating style) shares Kathy’s preference for connecting at the level of relationship before settling down to serious work.  

No Big Deal Out Needed – Just Make it Personal

You don’t to make have to make it a big deal to attend to the relationship.   Just make sure to start with something that acknowledges or affirms the human being in front of you before turning to serious work.  Bring a cup of coffee or donut as a gift, inquire about a family member, chit-chat about sports or local gossip, notice a new hairdo, appreciate a picture or souvenir on the wall, tell a joke at your expense.  A couple of minutes is all it takes, at the beginning of every work session and periodically, during them.

When to Lead with Task and Not Relationship

This two-step works for some but not all people.  People who are highly task focused, including most of those who score high in the Directing (Forcing in the TKI) style of my inventory, mostly prefer the opposite sequence.  For them, the work at hand is ever beckoning and takes priority.  They value a process that keeps social pleasantries perfunctory and moves promptly to tasks.   But after the work of the moment is done or well underway, even many task oriented people appreciate relaxing for a few minutes for personal exchanges that deepen relationships.

Conflict Style Awareness Opens Space for Creative Responses

Like other conflict style strategies, the two step still requires you to figure out solutions.  But it opens space for people to be more flexible than they would be without it.  If you work with relationship-focused people in ways that first take care of their concern for relationships, they often turn out to be great problem-solvers.   

The two-step belongs in everyone’s personal toolkit.  I estimate that 25% or more of human beings have a strong instinct to give priority to the human connection over task.  

The story above highlights use of the strategy with individuals, but it is essential also in group decision making or conflict resolution.  Things go better when discussion processes include recognition not just of tasks but of relationships.  Facilitators and leaders should plan to address both.

In other posts in this series, I’ll show you Two-Steps for other kinds of situations, for example, with people who are very task focused. 

© Ron Kraybill 2016, 2018.www.RiverhouseEpress.com.  May be reproduced or reposted if this attribution notice is included.