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

Trainers considering use of  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 what we believe are the needs of most conflict resolution trainers.  But a percentage of trainers might benefit from a more 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.

If psychometrics is your over-riding concern, and issues such as user friendliness, cultural flexibility, and cost have no 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. 

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.

 

What Not to Say After Violence

An Important Choice: What to Do and Say After Violence?

Whenever violence takes place as a result of public conflict, well-intentioned leaders face a challenging question.  How should they respond?   What should they say that might reduce possibility of further bloodshed?  

A Painful Lesson from Yugoslav Wars

They can learn from the tragic experience of the Yugoslav Wars in the Balkans in the 1990s where some 130,000 were killed in a decade of horrific genocidal conflict.  

Most of the combatants were religious, loyal to the eastern or western branch of Christianity or to Islam.   All three traditions are home to resources for peace.  Each has scriptures that affirm kindness and peaceful conduct.  Each has individuals deeply committed to peaceful coexistence with others.  

Yet religion played a central role in the violence in the Balkans.  And religious leaders often contributed to the violence rather than help end it.   

General Condemnations of Violence May Make Things Worse

One way religious leaders stoked the war was through public comments on the conflict that superficially seemed to support peace but actually stirred followers up and ultimately supported an upward spiral of violence.  

In his insightful book, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation.  (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), Scott Appleby, a noted scholar of religion and conflict details the problem:

“Although few religious leaders endorsed or engaged in ethnoreligious violence, many more played into the hands of extremists by elevating national identity and the defense of communal rights above all other values.”

Even more damaging, writes Appleby, “was the failure of most religious leaders, on all sides, to denounce consistently and unequivocally the violence and human rights abuses committed by their own people.  Instead, they issued general condemnations of human rights violations by all sides and even formulated categorical denials of well-documented atrocities – while providing detailed reports about the suffering of their own people. (p75)”

How to Formulate Constructive Response

Although Appleby writes about religious leaders, his observations speak to all leaders sincerely committed to helping communities and nations end upwardly spiralling violence.   

Shaped in part by Appleby’s study, my counsel to leaders with good intentions over the last twenty years in a variety of situations of violent conflict in Africa, Asia, and the US has been:

1) You must speak out against violence when it occurs.   Silence will be interpreted as permission to continue.  

2) If people from your group or aligned with you have been violent or are seriously tempted to violence, it is imperative that you acknowledge this and publicly address it.   Failure to do this will be understood as license to continue violence.

3) General calls to all for peace and good conduct have positive value only to the extent that you display deep commitment to constructive behavior by those “on your side”.   If you don’t specifically challenge your own allies to high standards of conduct, they will inevitably sink to low ones.  

4) Unless you are scrupulously doing the above, public criticism of the excesses of the other side only fans the escalation of violence. 

5) The ability to do the above constructively will be much higher if you establish personal friendships with some leaders in communities in conflict with your own.   Try out on them the responses you anticipate making publicly about the conflict.  You will probably be surprised by gaps in your understanding of what is happening.   The quality and constructiveness of your responses will rise. 

 

 

How to Turn Insult to Dialogue

Public Insult Endangers Even If You’re Not the Target

Insult has become a daily aspect of life.  It’s hard to read the newspaper or view screens without encountering it.   This is bad, not just for us, but for our future and our children’s future. 

InsultFingerPublic insult damages more than its target. It erodes community by implanting destructive messages in all who witness it, eg:

  • Human interaction is a battlefield;
  • Being vicious, heartless, and cruel is acceptable in order to win;
  • Feelings of others and values of trust, good relationships, tolerance, and dialogue simply don’t matter.

When insult is allowed to have the last word, when it succeeds in silencing or humiliating people, those messages are planted like seeds. Eventually the seeds become norms and people begin acting on them on a broad scale.  Then violence is just a stone’s throw away.

Respond to Insult without Being Insulting

Among the many things we can do to prevent this is learning, modeling, and teaching the art of responding constructively to insult, without using insult ourselves.  

Don’t fight fire with fire.  Fight fire with water.

Steve Jobs’ Skillful Response to Public Insult

In a 3 minute video clip in 1997, Steve Jobs offers one of the best examples of defusing insult I’ve seen. He had just returned from a humiliating absence at Apple where he had been forced out ten years earlier.  In a conference someone tells Jobs it’s clear he often doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  The speaker continues with a hostile question and adds a zinger at the end:  “And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you can tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years.”

In an insightful analysis of Job’s response, Justin Bariso nails why it was effective:

  • He pauses, for a full 10 seconds, contemplating his response.  A pause not only gives time to control anger and prepare a thoughtful response, it sends a deeper message:  Let’s listen and think; let’s engage the issues, not just jump into combat.
  • He acknowledges elements of truth in the challenger’s point.   
  • He then reframes the discussion to the big picture, where there is more common ground.   The user had challenged Job’s work on a particular software.  Rather than respond directly and defensively, Jobs reframes the discussion to the issues and strategies that led to the development of that software.
  • He displays vulnerability, admitting that he has made mistakes.

That’s high skill in communication on display there.  You probably can’t match Job’s grasp of the issues in his field.  But you can learn from and practice the poise he models in the face of insult.

Mastering the thoughtful pause is a great place to start.  What’s to lose?  At the very least you gain time to formulate an answer you won’t regret later.

Studies have shown (eg: Daniel O’Keefe, Communication Yearbook 22, 1999, pp. 209-249) that speakers who, in a balanced way, present both sides of an issue before asserting their own views are more persuasive than speakers who present only one side.  Pausing gives space to review the other side, in addition to the emotional timeout it obviously gives.   Jobs recognized an element of truth in his challenger’s question and came up with a response that turned the challenge into a conversation.

In the language of conflict styles, this is opting for a Cooperating response (committed both to self and the relationship) in a setting where a Directing response (committed to self but not to the relationship) would have been easy but polarizing.

I’ve learned from my own efforts at this:   1) The best replies often occur to me about twenty minutes too late to be of value!  2) Like any skill, the ability to reply to insult without adding to it grows with practice.  A conflict style inventory like the Thomas Kilmann or my Style Matters is a great place to get started.  Compare them here.

Trump and Conflict Styles

We can Learn a Lot from Trump about Conflict Styles

The weekend brought a textbook example of under-use of conflict avoidance and its costs.

It started on Friday when Rep. John Lewis picked a quarrel with Trump. “I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate president,”  he announced in a press statement.  Saturday Trump fired back with tweets.

TrumpTweet Jan15-17

In the context of the long holiday weekend honoring Martin Luther King’s birthday, the exchange echoed thunderously in the media.

Result?  Lewis’ book sales skyrocketed.  By Sunday leading newspapers were carrying reports that his books were in the top 20 list of booksales and Amazon had sold out all copies of his best known work.

 

For his part, Trump took a hail of criticism, including critical tweets by some fellow Republicans, for dissing one of America’s most respected civil rights leaders.

Let’s be clear – Lewis started it.   Never mind that Trump himself spearheaded a preposterous “birther” challenge to Barack Obama’s legitimacy for eight years, against all evidence. What matters here is that this time someone else threw the first punch.

But conflict management is about more than who started things.  What matters is how to respond in a way most likely to bring a good outcome.

I cannot imagine a prudent advisor saying, “Donald Trump, you need to go after that revered civil rights leader.  You’ll gain a lot by firing right back with a big put-down.”   On a weekend when everyone remembers white domination of blacks, it’s a good idea to smack down a guy honored for leading demonstrations alongside MLK?   With lines a 7th grader could write?

Trump chose the conflict response that I call Directing in my conflict style inventory (aka Competing in the TKI, for those who use that instrument).  Directing pays no attention to relationships, feelings, or cooperation.  You focus solely on taking charge.  You win.

Don’t Diss Directing as a Response to Conflict

Don’t diss that style.  I agree it sounds vicious, and it can be.  But every human being needs it in certain forms from time to time.   A parent who doesn’t grab his three year-old dashing towards the street and take charge of the situation is a bad parent.  No matter how the child feels about it.

How about the captain of a sinking ship, a surgeon in charge of a dicey operation, a youth leader on a field trip with teenagers?  Sometimes goals and responsibilities are more important than relationships and feelings.

So, respect Trump for a generous dose of Directing in his conflict style repertoire.  But is Directing the only style he’s capable of?  That’s a question fundamental to all leadership.

Mark Twain wrote, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything you see is a nail.”  Conflict management is about flexibility, using the right style for the situation.  When we’re skilled in only one or two styles, we set ourselves up for failure.

Although Lewis started the fight, in the circumstances, conflict avoidance would seem to have served Trump, his party, and the nation far better.

When is Avoiding the Right Response to Conflict?

Avoidance is the perfect response:

  • when there’s no goal or purpose beyond ego satisfaction that you can accomplish by pushing your cause, or
  • when the the costs of a battle outweigh the costs of silence or withdrawal.  

On both counts, this was a slam-dunk for avoiding.   Why not starve the alligators with presidential inattention?  Just let the annoying words of the outspoken Representative fade into the news cycle.

People with a high Directing conflict style and low Avoiding response look and are intimidating.   But they are also easy to maneuver and tie in knots.   All it takes is low-grade insult to trigger them into reactions that waste time, energy, and good will over trivialities.   They can’t stop themselves from reacting.

 

In the world of politics and diplomacy, over-reaction can be hugely damaging.  Years ago I talked with an activist close to a group waging political insurrection in a country in Asia.  “We consider carefully,” he said, “which police stations to attack.  We hope they retaliate.  Our goal is to hit those stations most likely to strike back wildly in ways that really anger the public.   That’s one of the best ways to win support for our cause.”

I have no idea if provoking a self-damaging outburst from Trump was the intention of Lewis.   But it appears that the outcome of the exchange was indeed an expansion of the already record-breaking gap dividing Trump from many voters.

One thing we can count on: Recognition of the thin skin of the incoming president is not lost on adversaries of America. Trump is already being targeted in the international arena in ways calculated to work against all Americans. On the long run, the slender repertoire of conflict styles he has so far demonstrated will benefit neither the politician nor the nation.

 

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.