Homework on Conflict Styles

 

Life spares none from conflict.

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

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

Assignment: Write a Reflection Paper

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

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

Assignment: Apply Conflict Styles Framework to a Personal Conflict

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

Assignment: Discuss Conflict Styles in Study Group or Work Team

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

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

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

 

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

 
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