Category Archives: Conflict Style Training

Info, ideas, and resources for conflict style trainers.

Plan Teambuilding Now

It’s easy in team settings to get so focused on performance, planning, and budgets that you forget the single most important factor in productivity and in people’s sense of satisfaction on the job: relationships among colleagues.   

No matter how good everything else is, it’s hard toteambuilding be productive and feel content with your job if relationships are rotten.

Good relationships rarely happen by chance.  They happen by choice, when people choose to do stuff that facilitates friendship and connection.   Good leaders know this and make it a priority to plan activities that build relationships and  to incorporate them these plans into ongoing organizational life.   

There’s a bunch of ideas for team building on this page of the Human Resources Today website.

Recently a trainer wrote me about how pleased she was with her experience leading a conflict styles workshop as a teambuilding exercise with a small group of colleagues.   She used this outline in designing a short workshop on conflict styles with Style Matters Online

Team members particularly enjoyed, she wrote, the section of their score reports that offers suggestions for bringing out the best in themselves, given their own style preferences.   (See a sample of that in this demo score report, about halfway through)  She guided them in using an exercise on our site, “Create a MySupport Page: A Page of Tips about You for People You Live or Work With”.   

In this exercise, each person creates a list of suggestions that others could follow when approaching them for a discussion about a difficult issue.   She wrote that sharing these lists within the team brought a lot of intense and very useful discussion.   The group found the whole exercise so useful that they requested that another larger group of colleagues also be included in a similar event.  

The use of conflict styles training as a team building tool before the eruption of crisis is far more effective than waiting till things are exploding.  People learn and retain info better when they are relaxed.   It’s deeply satisfying for team members to participate in a positive experience of joint discovery and planning about how to bring out the best in each other – far more so than trying to rebuild after things have gotten intolerable.

Plan now to add a two hour workshop to your calendar for the coming year.  The rewards for a modest investment of time can be huge in terms of increased morale and performance!

New Trainer’s Guide

If you’re planning a workshop using Style Matters Online, see the new Training Outline for Style Matters OnlineThis is a 5 page trainer’s guide for a workshop 1-2 hours in length with users who’ve taken the online version of Style Matters and have its detailed score report in hand.

Don’t miss, of course, our long-standing primary training resource, the Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops. That’s a comprehensive 40 page guide you can download free, covering a variety of issues in conflict styles training. 

But the large guide is oriented to the print version of Style Matters.  This new 5 page addition is specifically for the online version of Style Matters and assumes participants each have a printout in hand of the 8-10 page score report created by the online version. 

We made significant upgrades in 2017 to the score report of the online version.  These make it easier than ever to lead an engaging workshop on conflict styles, even without previous experience as a conflict styles trainer.   

Our algorithm examines each user’s data in multiple ways, identifies patterns, and responds with detailed suggestions for maximizing a user’s responses to conflict resolution.   Only a very experienced trainer in a workshop setting with a good bit of time would be able to match the thoroughness and depth of this digitally-created score report.

Anyone with basic group facilitation skills can use the new Training Outline to easily design and lead a learning and reflection process based on Style Matters Online.

See an infographic on options for delivering Style Matters Online to users here.

Conflict Styles in Spanish

We’re pleased to announce that, thanks to many requests for it, the Style Matters conflict style inventory is now released in a Spanish translation.  A direct translation of the English version, the Spanish conflict styles edition is now available in PDF format.  In the coming months we will bring it out in the online version as well.

In contrast to the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and other conflict style inventories currently available, Style Matters is designed to be suitable to users of diverse cultural backgrounds.  The inventory offers users a choice of instruction sets for users, one worded for people from Low Context Cultures and the other for users from High Context cultures.  

Click here to purchase the Spanish PDF for $9.95, a one-time purchase.  To train with it, trainers then buy user rights, one per user, at a price of $3.95 each, in order to photocopy and use the inventory.    Click here for Style Matters in French.

spanishsmcover  spanish5stylesdiagram

As a social enterprise, Riverhouse seeks to make our products available regardless to cost.   If $3.95 per user is simply not realistic for your circumstances, contact us.

Teambuilding Exercises

Isolation and polarization are big threats today.  team-building-exercises2  We can’t take collegiality and community for granted.  We have to work steadily at renewing them.

Part of the requirement of leaders now is to recognize that times have changed.   We must strategically work to create these essentials that in times past seemed to come naturally.

So here’s a marvelous collection of blog posts on team building on Human Resources Today.  I particularly like this group of teambuilding exercises.


Pyramid of Conflict Resolution Skills


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

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

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

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

Conflict Competency is a Continuum of Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Leaders Have Gaps in Competence the Cost is High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Many “Peace Professionals” Have Big Gaps

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

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

Expertise is Required at Every Level

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Conflict Styles Training

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

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

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

About Personal Foundations 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Afford All Those Levels and All Those Skills?

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Kraybill, PhD

Infographics on Online Training


If you expect to do conflict styles training with Style Matters online, take a minute to scan our new infographics.  They show two different options for getting users pre-paid to the inventory and tracking who has taken it.  

Both get users to the inventory with minimal effort for you or them.  Coupon Access requires no setup time for the trainer.  The Dashboard has more tools for user management but takes 30-60 seconds per user to setup and manage.

Coupon Code Access


Choose Coupons if your priority is minimal setup.   You just send out an email with instructions and the access code to your users, and they show up in your workshop with score report in hand.   It has one function in addition to getting users to the inventory quickly and easily: You can monitor who has taken the inventory with the Coupon Manager.  Your only time requirement as trainer is editing the suggested text we send you to forward to your users and emailing it to them. 
       Order Coupon Access for $6.95 per user.
       Login to Coupon Manager.

Choose Dashboard if your priority is ability to manage user experience.    You can see all your users on the dashboard and delay delivery of the score report to users, view score reports, print, and email them;  monitor who has taken and not taken the inventory, send reminder notes with a single click, create aggregated score reports for a group, etc.

Unlike the Coupon Manager, the Dashboard requires you to input user names and emails into the dashboard (manually or via file upload).   Expect to invest 30-60 seconds per user into setting up and managing the dashboard.   
       Order Dashboard for $99 for 10 users + $6.95 per additional user.
       Login to dashboard.



Can You Lead in Emergencies?

emergency_styleCan you lead in times of emergency?  Don’t think that’s for someone else.  Life exempts none from this call.  

Unless you’re a hermit, a time will come when you too must act and lead in the face of danger, no matter your rank or station.

And now is the time to prepare.

Directing Stars in Emergencies

In times of grave threat, tough decisions must be made and actions quickly taken.  What protective measures to take?  Must you flee?  What to carry with you? Who gets priority for assistance?  What about those who won’t budge?  Where to shelter and how to get there?

Professional emergency responders such as police, fire, medical, and transportation structure decision-making and action in tight chain-of-command hierarchies.   Superiors decide and give orders; subordinates obey.  

When lives depend on getting things done quickly, there’s no time for consultation and debate. The Directing style of conflict management and decision-making stars in emergencies.  (For a 30 second overview of this and the other four conflict styles, see “Intro to Conflict Styles” slideshow).

High Focus on Goal or Task, Low Focus on Relationships

The essence of Directing is focusing narrowly on a certain goal or task, without being distracted by objections and feelings, or relationships.  “Like it or not, here is how we are doing it.”  The focus is not on keeping others happy but on achieving a goal or outcome.

Directing Doesn’t Always Feel Good 

Directing is pushy.  Sometimes you have to insist on things others dislike or resist.  If you use this style regularly in non-emergency settings or long-term relationships, the cost is very high.  People withdraw from a bossy know-it-all.  Teamwork and morale plummet.   

But don’t think that since you are not a bossy person, this is never a style for you.  You wouldn’t be here if your ancestors hadn’t used Directing to defend their children.  You’re at risk in the next emergency life if medical, police, or fire responders don’t have a smoothly functioning chain of command based on it. 

Worse, you will fail to protect people you love some day if you aren’t able to use Directing yourself and model effective use of it to others. 

One of my life lessons in this came, oddly enough, in dog training.  When I was young, my family adopted a beautiful puppy.  We loved her very much and I invested a lot of time in training her.  She learned quickly except for one thing: coming when called.

One day, playing with me in the yard our one year old dog saw something interesting across the street and ran for it.   I knew the danger and called frantically for her to come.  But dear Chao Mei ignored me and ran into the path of a car.  A few seconds later, she was history.

I was surprised at how much sadness this loss brought for a fortnight into our life.  I felt guilty and pondered my role in it.  Clearly, there were elements of chance and animal instinct at work beyond my control.  

Yet had I been more demanding and less flexible in my training, or perhaps less eager to please Chao Mei by letting her run free close to a busy road, she might not have died.

I thought about this often in later years as I raised young children through the predictable dangers of growing up.  Seat belts, sidewalks on busy streets, crowded malls, computers and screens, early driving experience, etc.   Parenting requires frequent response in Directing mode!

If not parenting, someday you will be tasked with chauffeuring a youth group on an urban field trip, or driving colleagues careless about seat belts, or managing finances for a group, or coordinating schedules for use of a facility shared by many, or needing to get urgent medical attention for someone you love whose life is in danger.

Or you’ll be a professional with special responsibility during crises:  police, emergency personnel, doctors and nurses, legal representatives, finance people, etc.

The day will come when you will gravely let down other human beings if you do not have the ability to “stand up on your hind legs” when necessary, to speak in a strong voice, make a demand, assert authority, perhaps take control.   

There is a time when the most loving, responsible, devoted-to-others thing you can do is to be decisive, focused on a goal, and demanding.  Even though others are unhappy about it.

“Competing”: The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

The venerable Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument names this style “Competing”.  It is true that Directing can look like competing.  But as a descriptor of emergency response, the word is misleading.   

When a  police officer is evacuating a neighborhood threatened by flooding and says, “We want you to leave and travel only on designated highways,” it’s not about competition.  It’s about providing firm direction on behalf of public safety and order.

When the financial controller in a company issues a directive to reduce spending by 20% for the rest of the year, she’s probably not into competing.  She’s just dead serious about ensuring financial survival and preserving jobs.

Improve Your Skill in Directing

Everyone should develop capacity to use Directing effectively when circumstances require. But it’s not as simple as just amping up your volume.   A human bulldozer on the loose in crisis is no help either.    You need all the other conflict/leadership styles as well in emergencies.

In a coming post I propose strategies for self-assessment and change, discuss the common error of using anger as a crutch in Directing, and suggest ways to expand your impact with this essential conflict style.  Stay tuned!

Yes, you!  Pay attention!

You can get an objective, psychometrically validated snapshot of your conflict style patterns.   Take my Style Matters conflict style inventory here for $7.95.  Answer twenty questions and get a 10 page score report with detailed feedback about your unique personal responses in conflict and high stress leadership situations.  Or take the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument here for $18.95.   Compare the two here.


Two Conflict Style Workshop Designs



Trainers often ask: how much time to budget for a conflict styles workshop?   It depends!

Traditional Pencil and Paper Format

In traditional pencil and paper training format, you might calculate

  • Handout booklets and give quick instructions – 5 minutesPencilpaper
  • Taking inventory – 10-15 minutes
  • Tally numbers – 5 minutes (each person tallying their own)
  • Explaining core concepts and interpreting numbers – 10-30 minutes
  • Small group and large group discussion – 20-60 minutes

That would be enough to cover the basics of conflict styles in 80-120 minutes.  You could easily do a lot more, of course, if you have another hour or several more.   See my Trainers Guide, available as a free download, for ideas.   

Conflict Styles Training with Digital Support

Online tools open another scenario that many trainers like because it pushes individual activities outside of workshop time and allows the trainer to dedicate more classroom time to discussion.  conflict-styles-online-ipad-v3

You can do this with the online version of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument as well as my Style Matters (but compare them and you’ll see Style Matters is far advanced in its online trainer support facilities).

Using the online version could look something like this:

  • You send users an email with instructions to login and take the inventory at home (using a pre-paid code or a special login sent from the trainer dashboard).  They then bring a printed out computer-generated score report to workshop.  Assuming they are competent with computers, this entire process will take them 10-20 minutes on their own time before the workshop.
  • Users could also be instructed to then watch the online video on our site.   This is a 5 minute intro to conflict styles.   Alternatively, you could start with this intro in a workshop, since it’s not long and it’s a great way to quickly get everyone on the same page.
  • In the workshop, if time allows, I’d recommend giving the same lecture “explaining core concepts and interpreting numbers” referred to in the first outline above, in 10-30 minutes.  
  • But if time is really tight, or the trainer feels totally not up for giving an intro to core concepts, with the online version, you could skip a lecture and just have them go straight to their  score reports.  

    The digital score report is packed with info. There’s a lot to look at and discuss there.   In the process of discussing score reports, a lot of core concepts get clarified and reinforced.   So, for example, you could form 5 groups, one for each style, and ask people to go to the group which is indicated in their score report as their highest in Storm.

    In these groups, they each share what they see as one of their best strengths in the use of this style, and also each tell a short story of a time when they see that they over-used this style and it created difficulty.  Hopefully you’ll have more than an hour, in which case you can get lots of ideas for valuable discussion in the Trainers Guide.

Using this approach, it’s possible to do a compact but coherent conflict styles workshop in as short as an hour.  A length of 90-120 minutes would be much better, but if an hour is all you can give, you can still create a worthwhile learning experience.

When using the online version, cut the time required for you to communicate with people about the workshop in advance to a minimum by using the Style Matters dashboard or coupon access.

For years I felt that users got a roughly equivalent product in the print and online versions.  But recently my assessment has changed.  In early 2017 we substantially upgraded the algorithm for generating online score reports.  It looks for a variety of patterns in the numbers and generates a detailed score report accordingly.   This score report contains many suggestions for self-management based on scores, including situations where user scores are quite close among several styles.

An experienced trainer able to study an individual score report for several minutes can probably get close to that level of analysis.  But in group settings, that’s hardly possible.   Even if the trainer is able to quickly identify the patterns, it takes several minutes of talking per user to describe those patterns.  The limits of time make it impossible to provide that with more than a couple of people.

So although as a trainer I love the human connection of the old-fashioned pencil-and-paper format, in most settings I now think that users get more specific, targeted feedback if they use the online version.  

The ideal, in my experience is a combo approach:  Users take the inventory on their own online and bring a printed out score report to class.   The trainer then works with a group of people reflecting on their own score reports and comparing notes with others.   In interacting with the group, the trainer still has the benefits of face-to-face interaction.

And, though I always prefer face to face when possible, our world increasingly engages online.  The online version also makes it possible for trainers to facilitate an excellent learning experience when face-to-face workshops just aren’t in the cards.


How Does Conflict Style Shape Destiny?

How is a Score Report

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

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

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

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

Conflict Style Awareness is More than Technique

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What’s New in the Score Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Get Your New Score Report

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Sample text on the combination of Cooperating and Compromising


Too Ticked to Talk Nice


You can’t do conflict resolution without doing anger management.

Anger is an emotion that everyone needs.  Don’t wish it away.  It provides resources essential to self-protection and survival.  It helps us respond quickly, with high energy, to dangerous or unpleasant situations.

But that doesn’t mean it’s fine to rant when you’re pissed.

Talk About Anger in a Non-Angry Way

Researchers in several fields find that expressing anger in an angry way feeds the problem.

Angry_man You can talk about your anger without yielding to the impulse to be aggressive or to hurt others. Say that you are angry, say why you are angry, say what could be done to improve things – and say these things without being hurtful, hostile or rude.

When Anger is too Great for Constructive Talk

If you cannot yet do this, limit communication so you don’t feed anger or damage to relationships.  Use the cool-down time:

  • for journaling, which has been shown to be highly effective in helping people regain perspective on anger;
  • to do some detective work about your emotions (see point 3 in my essay on anger management);
  • to review how to present your concerns in ways most likely to bring positive response from your counterpart.

When You’re Ready to Talk

When you talk, consider the conflict style of your counterpart.  See my blog posts about the two-step approach and my detailed suggestions of support strategies for each style.

Regardless to conflict style, a formula that helps to frame things in a non-aggressive way is the “I message” or “Impact statement”.   The idea is to avoid the accusatory tone of “You are X,Y,Z.”

Instead, describe the impact of what your counterpart is doing on you and your emotions.   “I feel… when you… because….” Or, “The impact of what you do on me is YYY….”

For situations where anger is intense, you are more likely to have a successful experience in conversation if you agree on a way to structure it. For example:

  • Use a “talking stick” and agree that you will pass it back and forth as you speak. You can speak only when you are holding the talking stick (or pen, pillow, book, etc.)
  • Agree on a sequence to organize the conversation, such as: “We’ll begin by giving each person 5 minutes to explain without interruption what they are upset about. Then we’ll try to list the issues where we disagree. Third, we’ll see if there are points that we agree on. Fourth, we’ll return to where we disagree and try to resolve those.”
  • Agree to ground rules. For example, agree that each person needs to repeat back in their own words what the other person has said, to the satisfaction of that person, before responding.  Use this structure for at least 15 minutes , and agree when to relax it. The pattern is:  Person A speaks, Person B repeats back in his or her own words. Person B speaks, Person A repeats back, etc.

Live for Soul Not Magic

I’ve tried all the above and found them all helpful enough that I continue to use and teach them.  But I’ve also learned there’s no magic – no wording or strategies that guarantee a good outcome when feelings are deep or someone is in a hard emotional space.

Even after teaching and writing about tools for conflict resolution for several decades, I still fail to achieve constructive communication in some circumstances where I try hard for it.  So will you.

One of the ambiguous gifts of age is that we come to accept that which is.   We learn that ultimately we have no real control over anything or anyone other than ourselves, and not always not even that.   We learn to rest when we have done what we can, even if the outcome is not what we seek. These learnings shape the character of the soul and none shapes us more profoundly than our encounters with anger.

When life brings opportunities to practice the arts of resting peacefully in that which is and cannot be changed, do not close your heart to them.

For more on anger management, see: