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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. 

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.

 

Conflict Styles: Digital vs Paper

In training with the Thomas Kilmann or my Style Matters conflict style inventories, you have an option to use either a paper or online version.   I used to be ambivalent about this choice, but no more.

I’m an old-school trainer. I love the simplicity of paper and face-to-face training.  But after Style Matters had been out in paper for several years, demand for an online tool drove us to also develop a digital version.  That was an eye-opener for me.  

After dozens of hours honing our scoring algorithm, I couldn’t deny that the score report our server spits out for each user mines the user data in ways I can’t match in a workshop from a hand-tallied score summary.  It would take quick thinking and 10-15 minutes dedicated to each participant for a trainer to come even close to the detailed insights contained in the 10 page score report generated by our server.    That’s just not realistic with 10-20 people in a workshop.

Best of all worlds – digital plus face to face.

So I’m a reluctant convert to the digital version of Style Matters.  We still sell the print version, but in my opinion the ideal approach in training is to have users take the online version before the workshop, print out the score report at home, and bring it to a live workshop.  

Then in a face to face setting a trainer takes users through a learning experience that provides some input on conflict styles, reinforced by review and discussion of digital score reports in small and large group settings.

Don’t miss the new guide to training with Style Matters Online.

To assist this, I recently wrote a new section for my long-standing Trainer’s Guide to Successful Conflict Style Workshops.   There’s a lot of trainer guidance in that guide, but it largely assumes the paper version.

The new guide presents a trainer’s outline for a workshop using the score report from the online version, including links to a lot of resources to support your preparation.  It’ll be in the next edition of the Trainer’s Guide, but don’t wait.  Take two minutes to scan it now.  The Thomas Kilmann has no comparable guide to my knowledge, but the two are close enough that some aspects of my guide still apply.

Get Guide to Conflict Style Workshops for Online Users.
Compare Style Matters and the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.

Talking Stick Breaks Impasse

Big News – A Moment of Dialogue in Washington!

Divided Democrats and Republicans found a way to talk this week, and actually listened to each other, using a talking stick!talkingstick

The Washington Post on January 28, 2017 reports that Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans, convened a bipartisan meeting in her office to explore ways to reopen the government during the recent shutdown.  Having succeeded at that, they’re now discussing a way forward on immigration issues.  They used a Masai talking stick to structure their conversation.

So What’s a Talking Stick?

A talking stick – this one borrowed from the renowned cattleherders of Kenya – is an object passed around as people talk, to provide a simple structure of respectful communication.  There’s one ground rule:  You can’t speak unless you’re holding the talking stick.   

How to Use a Talking Stick

The simplest of all tools for facilitating dialogue, the talking stick requires no great expertise or training.  No special equipment required.  Any simple object will do – a feather, a stone, a pencil, a paperweight.

Usually a talking stick is used with people sitting in a circle, and it’s simply passed around the circle, from one person to the next.  I’ve also had success with it in larger settings where people are not in a circle.  In this case it can be simply passed back through the group to those wanting to speak, or the facilitator can move around the room and reclaim it after each speaker. 

Two things to be careful about in facilitating with a talking stick:
1) Make sure the ground rule is clearly understood and supported by all.
2) Model and require respect for the stick.  Model giving full attention to the person holding it and do not interrupt.  Be alert to any violations of the ground rule.  When this happens, promptly repeat the ground rule and remind the group that keeping it is essential.  If you ignore violations without saying anything, they will multiply and the structure will be lost.

Cleanly facilitated, a talking stick quickly brings a tangible sense of order and deep listening into the room.  People hold forth and then a few seconds of spacious, uncontested quietness reigns as the object is passed to the next person.   As facilitator, you can invite such spaces by holding the object thoughtfully in your own hands for a few seconds of silence at well-chosen moments, such as just before you pass it to the first speaker.   

Limits of the Talking Stick

As a tool for structuring dialogue, the talking stick can be almost magical.  But recognize its limits.  It’s a dialogue tool  and unwieldy in moments of negotiation or decisionmaking.  Think through the purpose of the session.   If eventually you must go beyond dialogue – as usually you must at some point – think through options and how  to transition when the time arrives. 

You can easily find detailed guidance with a web search.  Or get my book Cool Tools for Hot Topics: Group Tools to Facilitate Meetings When Things are Hot, with more than twenty practical tools for facilitating dialogue in difficult settings, including the talking stick.  At $4.95 on Amazon it won’t break your piggy bank!

Attacker Spreads Hate, Finds Mercy

The NY Times carries a gripping account about vandalism by young whites against a mosque in Texas.  One youth writes a heartfelt letter of apology and Muslim leaders are so moved that they request the judge to be lenient.   

The prosecutor thinks this is a bad idea and forbids the youth from even visiting the mosque.  Nevertheless, well, just read the story – you won’t regret it.

In a time when alienation is widespread, the response of NY Times readers to this story is one of visceral gratitude.  Many comment it is the best they have read in a long time.

This is a story about restorative justice that Americans really need to hear. If we are to find our way back from the abyss of polarization, we have to stop planting seeds of alienation. This requires changes to a justice system that systematically blocks people from relationally-based responses to crime. .

The concept of justice widely known and applied in our society is court-centered restorative_justice-storypunitive justice, which holds no interest in healing of relationships or individuals. The court calls all the shots. The individuals involved have only small roles in the process, and no say in what happens.

Victims often have the tiniest role and the least say in this process. They are expected to provide evidence of wrong-doing and then disappear for the court to mete out punish against an offender.

Restorative justice, in contrast, recognizes that offenses involve human beings and relationships  and therefore responses ought to do so as well.  It creates space for the instinct for healing that often still survives after offense and, when it emerges, allows it to shape sentencing.

Throughout the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and many other places, facilitators trained in restorative justice assist parties and justice system officials to work out a response to offense acceptable to the parties.

Restorative justice is not the right approach to all offenses. But it has grown rapidly since the early 1980s (first used by traditional and native communities; pioneered in courts in Ontario by Mennonite community workers in the 1970s; I did first US cases in Elkhart, Indiana in 1977; first US program there in the 80s) because it honors one of the strongest and best human instincts.

After offense we are hurt and angry. But we are also wired with deep knowledge that we ourselves are offenders at times and that offenders deserve support and help to grow.

If families, churches, mosques, schools, and courts would nurture this deep instinct, the polarization that threatens our world today would rapidly fade. 

Stories like this help reclaim the best of who we are. There is hope! Share it!

 

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.