Category Archives: Transform the Healer

Essays reflecting on how to make vocations healing, activism, and peacebuilding a spiritual path.

Tutu Led by Sharing His Power

The passing this week of Archbishop Desmond Tutu brings a flood of memories of an amazing man and a remarkable chapter in history.  I was in South Africa from 1989 to 1995 and witnessed him in action on many occasions.   

For anyone committed to leading peaceful change in organizations, communities, or nations, there’s much to learn from Tutu’s life about how to be effective in human transformation.


In the framework of conflict styles, Tutu was strong in multiple styles.  He was often pushy – the Directing style. 

But he was just as often the opposite – gentle, sensitive, and caring – the Harmonizing style.

Often he was both at once!  In conflict styles language, that’s the Cooperating or Collaborating style, simultaneously committed to one’s own agenda and to the agendas of others.  So he was bold, strong, and outspoken as a leader for justice, yet consistently compassionate and responsive to the needs of others, including the white communities who in the beginning despised and feared him. 

There were many wonderful consequences.  One was he was earned the trust and respect of many South Africans, including many whites, and he was often a bridge between groups in volatile situations (including, late in his life, warring politicians in an electoral conflict in neighboring Lesotho).

Perhaps even more important, his Cooperating style helped unify his own fractured constituencies.  A largely unrecognized reality of longstanding social and political conflict is polarization within each side.  Wherever there’s a big liberation or political struggle (including here in the US right now) you will find deep division among supposed “partners in arms”.   South Africa’s liberation movement was terribly, sometimes murderously splintered from the 1970s onwards.

So Tutu’s Cooperating style of leadership was a tremendous gift of unity to the movement itself.  He initiated many things, but he never owned them.  He worked hard, but he didn’t clamor for credit.  He delegated leadership and authority. 

This week I’ve spoken with several South African friends from my years there.  I am struck by how many feel they played a key role in Tutu’s prophetic and nation-changing role.  People feel not only that they were “close to him”, but that they personally contributed in important ways to Tutu’s mission.  This probably reflects the universal human need for recognition. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as close to this noble man?

But there’s more: Tutu was a man of truly generous heart. He stood with boldness in the limelight but he didn’t hog it. You never doubted, seeing him in action, that he was in this for others, not for gratification of his own ego.

He didn’t have to be at the center of everything. He made space for others to lead. He delegated key tasks and commissioned people to carry out key missions mandated and supported by his office. Some leaders do this in a way that makes every effort an extension of their own ego, but Tutu wasn’t like that. He inspired and empowered and released people to do the work that needed to be done.

I suspect dozens of people across South Africa feel that they personally played a special role in the evolving prophetic ministry of Desmond Tutu! He didn’t hoard credit, recognition, or power, rather he made it easy for others to share in them.  All with whom he worked came to feel they held a stake in the goodness he brought into the world.

On a personal note: Though in gatherings where Tutu spoke from time to time, I never worked directly with “the Arch” in my South Africa years.  But later, in 2012 he accepted the request of Heads of Churches of Lesotho, with whom I was working at that time, to help secure commitment of politicians to an Electoral Code of Conduct.  I’ve published memories from my journal of an amazing day at this link.

Conflict Resolution Trainer & Gun Lover

You know me as a peace process guy, a conflict resolution trainer, an author of peace training materials. You don’t know this: I love guns.

As far back as I can remember, guns stood in the corner of the pumphouse on the family farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Carrying a 12 gauge shotgun down rows of corn on a chill Saturday morning in October, with our terrier on the prowl and all my teenage senses tuned to the hunt, thrilled me. With the deadly power in my hands I could bring home a pheasant or rabbit if I was quick enough. I felt grownup, part of the world of men.

So in 1993, in a remote training camp in the high veld above Pretoria, on the third day of a course in conflict resolution for police in the new South Africa, when smiling officers came during morning break and asked if I’d like to go out on the firing range, I instantly said yes. 

I wasn’t sure what they had in mind. But soon as I jumped into their van after lunch, I knew. A pile of weapons and ammunition sprawled across seats and floor. Three burly police trainers grinned at me knowingly. We were boys in a toy store and my heart was pounding.

We started with rubber bullets, in two varieties.  One was a heavy chunk of rubber an inch and a half in diameter and over 3 inches long.  I had seen these fired at protesters and witnessed a colleague take a direct hit a year ago as a peace monitor working a chaotic line between police and protesters.  She limped into the office the next day with an angry welt on her thigh the size of a saucer.   Centered in dark purple was a perfectly round, pure white circle larger than a quarter, exactly the size of the rubber bullets I was now firing.

Then to more lethal crowd control, hard blue plastic balls the size of marbles, with a metal core.   In their shotgun shell casing, they had the same ready-for-action look that had intrigued me about the pumpkin ball slugs I remembered from deer hunting in my youth. 

On to birdshot in a 12 gauge shotgun.   This brought memories of my first experience with shooting at the age of twelve.  I was so focused on holding the long, heavy weapon level and and steady that I neglected to secure it tightly against my shoulder.  Its kick hurled it up and over my head to the ground, leaving me with a bruised ego and a sore shoulder for a day.  

Now on the firing range, after two shots with this familiar weapon I was ready to move on to more exotic ones.  But the magazine held 10 rounds. The police trainer insisted, as a matter of protocol he said, for this and all weapons that day, that I fire every round. As I braced myself with manly deliberation and squeezed off another eight rounds, I wondered how my shoulder would feel tomorrow.

Then we graduated to weapons I’d rarely seen and never fired.  The Uzi machine gun, I wrote in my journal that evening, was “wonderfully light, compact, and maneuverable, elegant as a laptop computer.”   Then R4 and R5 rifles, South African automatics of similar caliber to the American M16. 

Long belts of ammo for each. No worries about kick now – they’re low-recoil rifles!   T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t, an axis of power dancing sweetly on my shoulder, my authority radiates into the beyond!

I keep these on a shelf in my office as a reminder of what I learned on the firing range. The work of building a peaceful world is not just about reducing dependency on weapons. It is also about addressing the longings of heart and soul that drive us to misplaced hope in weapons.

Next ten rounds with a Beretta pistol.   I’d had a recurring dream for years about shooting an unknown invader with a pistol.  I wondered as I fired at a human shaped target 30 yards away if this real life experience would feed or extinguish the dream.  For someone who hadn’t fired a gun for twenty years, I turned out to be a pretty good shot, coming within inches of my target with the pistol, as I had with the rifles at 125 yards.

We concluded with smoke grenades, CS riot gas, stun grenades, and tracer bullets shot by a light machine gun.   With a range of 800 meters, nearly half a mile, the latter didn’t seem so light to me. It required a strong arm to raise and aim, until I laid prone on the ground and used the short bipod on the muzzle.   I felt something close to omnipotence sending a deadly arc high into the mountain towering above the far end of the range.  

I loved every minute of that hour on the firing range.  As a lifelong tinkerer, I relished the mechanical elegance of the deadly tools in my hands.   I respected that each was a highly crafted device, the product of years of experimentation and creative thought, and beneficiary of endless rounds of improvement.

Even more, I loved the sense of power I felt with precise and mighty machines in my hands.   I loved that I could stand here, in one place, aim at something far away, and with a slight squeeze of a finger, obliterate it. 

Perhaps most of all, I loved the camaraderie I felt with the police officers. In the methodical receiving and handing back of powerful and uncommon weapons, I felt part of a privileged club.   I was an honored man among a highly skilled elite. 

By the time we finished, I felt that I’d survived – no, thrived – in a kind of brotherly test that had morphed into a ritual of belonging.  I was an insider.  When we returned to the training venue and the trainers described my skill to their beaming colleagues, my relationship with the whole group was sealed.

And my conscience was seared.   I had spent years teaching skills for nonviolent resolution of conflict.  I’d worked and lived in places where weapons caused indescribable grief.   Even the rubber bullets, the least destructive munition I’d fired, had been routinely used for years to subjugate African communities.  Had I sent precisely the wrong message by going along with these officers, eager to share their toys, in enjoying the thrill of weapons? 

What did it say about me that I enjoyed it all so much?

More than twenty years later, I am still not sure I did the right thing that day.  But I am grateful for the experience and for things I now see with greater clarity.

I understand something about love of guns. There’s no denying it – I too am drawn to powerful weapons.

I also came to understand something about why.  Wielding, firing, managing elegant and powerful devices refined to respond to my control is fun. 

But the biggest thrill, I now see in retrospect, came not from the weapons but from things that came to me through them.   For that hour, for the rest of that day, I felt powerful, capable, connected, esteemed; luxuriously so.

Guns get a grip on the psyche because they offer a quick, intense shortcut to things we’d all like to feel more often. 

And it doesn’t take Solomon to recognize that quick thrills don’t last. Nor can you sustain healthy lives or personal security around them.  In the end only a rich web of equitable relationships, personal involvement in meaningful work, and an undergirding sense of sustaining spirituality can truly satisfy.   

I do not doubt that some who own and use guns possess all three of those in generous measure.  But in the shrill, defiant voices of many I hear something different – pre-occupation with guns as a bulwark against fear, as a symbol of meaning. 

This is misplaced hope; a mark of inner shortcutting.   No devices, deadly or otherwise, no matter how numerous or powerful, can bring peace or meaning to those whose lives are empty of things that endure. 

Loyalty and  memories of long ago cornfields brought me some years ago to pass along to my son a shotgun from my grandfather.  Today I’d probably discard it.   I’ve seen too many lives and families destroyed by weapons to have any interest in keeping one in my own home.  Statistics show that my family is safer without a gun under our roof.

I no longer dream about firing at an unknown invader with a pistol.   But I confess that I am still intrigued with weapons, a reminder, I take it, of spaces in heart and soul that still long for shortcuts.  I’m in this thing for life.

Ron Kraybill has worked in peacebuilding on five continents at local, regional, national, and international levels since 1979 and blogs at  His Style Matters conflict styles training tool is used throughout the world to help users assess and optimize their responses to conflict.  Reach him at

Healers Call Others-III

(Part III in a series from a forthcoming book, Transforming the Healer)

As we accept the reality of our own pain and struggle, and begin to recognize their universality,  we open ourselves to the voice of the soul.   We hear and feel things we never heard or felt before about our gifts and our strengths.  There is energy within, a nudge to speak out, move, or act in new or different ways.

We also notice things in the world that we never noticed before.  Eventually the inner stirring is confirmed by an opportunity or request from without.  

In the interplay of the inner and outer comes a message:  “You possess the right capabilities to address a particular problem in the world.  You are the one able to offer that which is needed.”

This is Call, a deeply felt motivation to mobilize our own unique blend of interests and abilities to address a particular need in the world.    As the next story shows, transformation is not only about hearing our own Call, but about relating to others in ways that help them hear theirs.  

Transformative Leadership Facilitates Call

Inevitably, the transformative journey calls us into action on behalf of others, for at our highest potential, we care as much about others as ourselves.  If we understand transformation, our response will be different than “helping others” or “fixing their problems.”  We have to help others experience their own sense of Call.

In the 1970s, Macler Shepherd was an African American businessman who ran a furniture repair business in St. Louis.  Hubert Schwartzentruber was a  pastor – recently arrived from Ontario – with a sense of call to serve the city. Determined to mobilize the community for better housing, schools, and services, Schwartzentruber recognized enormous leadership ability in Shepherd.   “When are you going to help your people, Macler?” he would ask when he dropped in to visit.

Shepherd began assisting in organizing community campaigns. He enjoyed this so much and was so effective that he left his business to assistants and began spending his time in community work.  Eventually he sold the business and became full-time director of the largest community development agency in the city, managing projects bringing millions of dollars of investment and development funds into the community.

In the interaction between Shepherd and Schwartzentruber we see transformation at work in several ways.  Responding to the transformational nudgings of his friend, Shepherd allowed himself to move beyond the safe routines of a successful business.  He began to use his ability to plan and lead in ways he had never done before, and from this emerged a powerful Call. From this emerged a new career in community developed that changed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

For his part, Schwartzentruber understood the role of being a transformative presence to others.  Rather than burn himself out trying to be the heroic leader of a struggle for justice in a community in which he would always be an outsider, he recognized that he could give more by empowering others to lead in that struggle.  Working quietly, selflessly, and persistently in the relational web of the community he served, Schwartzentruber found a way to be the early voice of the transformative Call that stirred Shepherd.   

Schwartzentruber’s contribution was being a catalyst of transformation in others.   He did this in relationship to an individual, but he impacted a whole community, as the individual whom he interacted with became a leader of many.   Perhaps equally important, he modeled a way of being that lives on in the memory of those who knew him. The transformative values that guided him linger long after his departure.

It took me twenty years of full-time work as a facilitator and trainer of peacebuilding before I could state clearly why I felt uncomfortable with a great deal of what takes place in the field of peacebuilding.   Throughout this time I had close association with – and for nine years, employment by – the Mennonite Central Committee. Alongside relief work and advocacy for justice and peace, MCC does community development, so for a quarter century I had the privilege and challenge of looking at human beings through the eyes of seasoned development practitioners.   

Development is a major industry in our world.  For decades, wealthy nations have sent people, money, and technology to “the South” for “development assistance”.   But the sad truth is that development is a failed industry. The billions spent on development in the last fifty years have largely been wasted and almost certainly benefited donors more than recipients.  Communities that planners once imagined would prosper remain poor. Rusting equipment and vacant buildings litter the globe like monuments to the empty dreams of a generation of “development experts”.  

Why? The reasons are complex, but largely they have to do with a preoccupation with products rather than people.  Development has been understood in material terms, with a goal to build clinics or roads or manufacturing facilities.  The factor key to any sustainable change process, the people affected, have mostly been ignored. Absent transformative strategies, money poured into roads and buildings and new technology is wasted.  Unrecognized, uninformed, uninvolved, and unempowered, the people whom development is intended to assist lose connection to development projects. When money runs out and the outsiders leave, projects die.

To be transformative, development must give first priority to strengthening the ability of communities to take control of their own future, with strategies like listening to local community people about what they see as needs, working closely with local decision-making processes, setting up accountability of projects to local communities, identifying and working with the best of local traditions and resources rather than rushing to import from the outside.  

The truth is that development as widely practiced is mostly driven by the needs and agendas of development organizations and their funders.  The assumption is that outsiders know better than locals the problems that must be addressed and how to address them. It is taken for granted that development workers make decisions for rather than with those who will live with the consequences of those decisions.   

Keenly aware of the failures of most development work, my colleagues at Mennonite Central Committee evolved a different model.  “Your goal should always be to work yourself out of a job,” said John A. Lapp, chief executive of the organization, in his first conversation with me.   Over and over I heard about the “listening/learning stance”, “acknowledging local resources”, “context appropriate technology”, “sustainability”, a “long-term timeframe”.

Those phrases may sound like jargon, but they point to a way of being present to others rarely practiced in our world.   A transformative presence helps others, not by giving them things or making decisions for them, but by building their capacities to address their own problems.   Perhaps most important of all, it strengthens people’s confidence in their own capacity.

This development-oriented approach has pervaded Mennonite peacebuilding approaches in situations of conflict.   In the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, we wrote and regularly revised a one-page summary of principles that guide in designing transformative peacebuilding practice.    In essence, these principles are the application of the best development insights to the design and implementation of peace work. You will find a current version in the sidebar on this page (or at the end of the chapter).   

Underlying these principles is the awareness – much of it arising from the experience of generations of community development work that influenced us – that the key questions determining whether we work transformatively are not whether we are good at planning, persuasive in negotiation, or organized in administration.  These skills assist the creation of peace and other good outcomes, to be sure. But something else determines whether our work is transformative: Is our first commitment to honoring and expanding the existing capacities of those we serve?  

More than half of the principles are about relationships, the only context in which transformation can possibly take place.  Many involve some form of bracketing of self, reducing preoccupation with our agendas as outsiders and focusing instead on the needs and resources of those we serve.  Reflecting the wisdom of sustainable community development work throughout the world, the principles take it as given that decision-making power must be shared.

Applying these principles of transformation demands much of world healers.  On one hand we bring a vision for change to every place that we go: the creation of a just and peaceful world to replace the unjust and violent one we live in.   We have an agenda!  

But change doesn’t stick unless it is deeply rooted in the people involved.  This means that the alternatives we advocate cannot be ours. They must emerge from and be carried by the people and communities we seek to serve.   People must “own” the ideas and skills they are learning. No amount of zeal, hard work, and dedication on our part can substitute for the commitment of others.  For our healing intentions to have impact and survive, we have no choice but to work in ways that empower others to carry on without depending on us.   

For thought and discussion

The post describes transformative leadership as helping others to recognize and expand their own capacity for solving the problems important to them.   Do you know people or institutions in your own profession who are not transformative in the way they operate? If you wanted to teach someone how to operate in this non-transformative way, what would you advise them to do?

Now name someone or some organization you know of that operates transformatively.    What does this look like in practice? What attitudes, values, skills, and resources are required to achieve this?

Wounded Healer – II

Pain Pushes us to Our Own Healing

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For thought and discussion

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

This blog is the second in  a series by Ron Kraybill for activists, healers, peacebuilders, and agents of change, on making vocations of healing a spiritual path.   To read others in the series, click on the category “Transform the Healer” in the right column of this blogpost.   Copyright 2019, Ron Kraybill. 

Transforming the Healer-I

First in a Series
for Exhausted Visionaries, Activists, and Healers

How can we assist the healing of a broken world when we ourselves are far from healed?  

The question has followed me across forty years of work on four continents. I first saw it as a problem for others, in the inability of colleagues to “walk the talk”, in conflict within and among the peace organizations that have been my home, and in burnout among colleagues on rugged edges of my field.   

It was another step when I came to see it as my problem, as I grew more aware of my own inconsistencies and wounds, and my own perennial struggle with exhaustion.  Then came a third big step as I slowly realized we all struggle with a challenge larger than any of us.

The very enterprise of helping, leading, and healing others brings complex issues and decisions into the life of any mortal who steps into it.   Those issues can diminish or enlarge us, socially and spiritually.  If we recognize the opportunity they present for growth, we can make our calling a location of profound growth at all levels of being. 

I went to a conference and met – myself

When I arrived in Denver at the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution in June, 1986, I was excited about the prospects ahead.   The field of conflict resolution was in its infancy and five hundred people were gathering from all over the world to share our experiences and learn from each other.  As founding director of one of the few organizations with full-time staff in the field at that time, I had looked forward for months to this rare chance to engage fellow pioneers. 

But within hours I was disillusioned.   On one hand, there were a lot of exciting new initiatives taking place.   Schools, government agencies, universities and businesses were all experimenting with using and teaching skills for peaceful resolution of conflict. 

But it seemed that many teachers of peace had only a superficial grasp of the concepts they taught. The air was thick with discussion of “win/win” negotiations and “joint problem-solving”, yet great rivalry was also on display.  Participants guarded their training materials carefully. Prickliness between organizations and individuals was apparent in a number of sessions. Many seemed more interested in demonstrating their own success than in learning from or contributing to others.   “These people can’t practice what they preach,” I complained to a friend, and withdrew into self-righteousness.

Then I walked into a workshop on a topic in which I had done a lot of work.   I knew most of the panelists. Most of them knew me. But they were at tables up front looking important; I was sitting in the back.  So why hadn’t I been invited to participate? My work was as interesting and important as theirs. I’d been around longer than most in the room, too.   Disappointment and jealousy swirled up in me.  

With it came something else, chagrin.  It wasn’t just others who had a problem practicing what they preached.  I was no better than anyone else. Alongside my good motivations about building a better world dwelt other motives that were harder to acknowledge.   I wanted recognition. Longed for it, craved it so much that I could hardly keep my mind on an interesting topic because I wasn’t getting what I thought I deserved.

And then found others on the same journey

Over the next several days I continued to think about ego, competitiveness, and turf.  But now I was struggling with myself, not with others. Scheduled to speak at a plenary gathering one evening, I felt an inner prompting to set aside the rather academic presentation I had planned and reflect on the challenge of peacebuilders practicing what we preach.   With sweaty palms and quaking knees, I heeded the voice within, afraid I’d be written off for good by pragmatic professionals.

A second surprise followed.   Minutes after the plenary closed, I was surrounded by a small multitude of people with the most enthusiastic responses I’ve ever received to a speech.  Their words came down to one simple message: “We struggle with this too. It is a major issue for our field. Thank you for naming it in a public forum.”   Some conversations begun that evening continued for years in other settings.   

The lessons of that week continue to shape the journey that has followed.   Several decades later I have fistfuls of stories confirming that being an agent of healing is more than a skill or profession.  I have personal experience – by no means all joyful – that to be a world healer is a way of living that requires a lifelong journey of personal transformation of all who pursue it.  It’s clear now that many people sense the possibilities of this journey and long to pursue it, but are unsure how.

Having lived with this paradox of unhealed healers for several decades now, I see that, as with most challenges in life, what first feels like one person’s struggle turns out to be shared by many.  Leaders and healers of all kinds find it hard to live their lives by the vision we uphold for others.  

We think we are alone in our struggle until an honest conversation suddenly reveals that somebody else carries a similar burden.   Fear of being discovered keeps us isolated, but in fact we are a universal horde of the walking wounded, each with fears and regrets and shames carefully camouflaged, each laboring in quiet isolation.  

The truth is that the issues here follow all humans across the course of our lifetime.  Like shadows that grow as afternoon advances towards evening, they become more difficult to ignore with the passage of life.    And they become unavoidable when we exercise leadership for healing and change. When our vocation calls us to help others get to a better place, no thoughtful person can escape the irony of our own desolation.  When others look to us for healing and hope, our own moments of brokenness and hopelessness stand out in painful relief.   

The temptation, of course, is to deny and hide the pain, covering it in endless busy-ness and always another step higher on the ladders of accomplishment.  But if we choose differently, we can allow our human-ness to become our richest asset in the healing of others. No techniques can accomplish this. Leading the healing of our world from the riches of our own ragged humanity must come from an inner essence forged across time, in the depths of the soul.  

This blog is for those who wish to begin a conversation, a least with themselves, about what it means to be healers who accept that we are ourselves deeply wounded, and who choose in response to make the calling of social healing a path of deep personal growth, one that can be sustained for a lifetime.

For Reflection and Discussion

Have a conversation with someone else in your field:  To what extent do you believe that others in your field are wounded healers?   Tell a story or recount an experience that supports your view.   

Then recount a story or experience that shows there are exceptions to your view.   

Finally, ponder the difference between these experiences.  What enables some practitioners to apply their knowledge of and skills in healing to themselves and their relationships while others do not? 

Transforming the Healer by Ron Kraybill will be published in 2020.

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.


Pyramid of Conflict Resolution Skills


The 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?

There is in fact a connection between what happens between human beings at the smallest level every day and what happens between nations.   We can’t build a peaceful world until parents, teachers, and leaders see this connection.  We must all act on it and teach others about it.

Below is a Pyramid of Competency to show the many layers of competence – and how they relate to each other – that are required for humans to live together peacefully.   I use it at the beginning of training on almost any conflict resolution topic to locate it on a map of “the big picture” of peace skills.  I also use it with individuals eager to pursue conflict resolution 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 this pyramid 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.  Up another level.  

Gradually opportunities came to work with group conflicts, in organizations that had come to a crisis as a result of conflict.  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 of mediation like starting off 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.  I found many resources in the well-established fields of Human Relations and Organizational Development that helped me grow.  But without the solid core of skills from interpersonal mediation and the group facilitation that I had now accumulated I never would have made it through the many challenging moments that came as I learned 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 added 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!

Leaders Have Gaps in Competence and the Cost is High

In every peace process I’ve been close to, there are plenty of people eager to assert leadership in time of crisis.  South Africa was no exception.  But few were skilled in facilitating discussion, negotiation, and decision-making processes.   This made things vulnerable – as all peace processes are – 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 that’s only one small aspect of the challenge.  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.  Reactionary white forces saw the vulnerability and diabolically labored to fuel it. 

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 either of the political parties in the US, 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, they might be good at wielding or brokering power.  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.

Sometime soon 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 most people still have no clue that  constructive responses to conflict can be taught and learned.   So institutions, schools, professions, and governments continue with the dysfunctional patterns of the past.  

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.   It will take decades, but over time we can address this vast deficit if we choose.    

Ron Kraybill, PhD

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

If you took the inventory in the past,  login now for a fresh read of your report with these improvements. You don’t need to re-take the inventory.   The new report uses the data from your previous take and mines it in new ways. 

The login has been been moved to the upper right of the front page.  If you’ve lost your password, use password recovery under the login fields to reset yours.  After login, go to “Style Matters Online” in the top menu, for options to view, print, and email your new report.  First time users, order here and then go straight to the inventory.



Sample text on the combination of Cooperating and Compromising


You Can’t Delete Religious Extremism

This diagram contains important clues about an alternative to the widely held notion that religious extremism can be forcefully countered. It’s from Ian White, a key strategist behind the scene in stabilizing the Northern Ireland peace process.

religion and conflict

Diagram by Ian White – more readable here – shows alternative to “countering” religion

Religion is deeply embedded in human experience. The goal in responding to religious extremism must be to work with and constructively engage the powerful energies of religion rather than to remove or thwart them, what White calls “countering”.

The latter rarely work out as expected. To the extent that strategies to counter extremism are violent, they share and strengthen the underlying assertion of extremism, that force is acceptable and effective in building a desirable future. Even when not violent, if such strategies fail to engage religious leaders, they are devoid of understanding of the world from which extremism emerges; and thus bereft of potency and sustainability.

Transformation: A Sustainable Response to Extremism

The only option for responding to religious extremism without making things ultimately worse is a strategy of transformation.

Such a strategy works respectfully and knowledgeably in regard to the role religion holds in human functioning and it engages religious people where they are. It actively seeks out and finds common cause with those values, symbols, traditions, individuals and institutions that support non-violent responses to human diversity; responses that exist in virtually all religious milieu, even if not always apparent from a distance.

Because the only realistic goal is transformation, not transmission or domination, such an approach must be a dialogue, not a monologue.

With no exceptions, all who travel and engage the world participate in and benefit from systems that are violent and oppressive. There is no such thing as fully peace-creating people engaging others in need of enlightenment. The best we can hope for is to step forward as still-struggling, partially blind people, committed nevertheless to working actively with others to improve ourselves, our communities, and our world.

And that’s enough. From such a stance we have sufficient credibility that we will find and engage those with a similar stance in other communities. Together with them, we can find transformative responses, things that will change both them and us in constructive, sustainable ways.

Ask Ian White, who quietly called into life and coordinated such an approach in Northern Ireland.

Author Ron Kraybill has worked in peace processes in the US, Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, South Africa, the Philippines, Myanmar, and other locations and blogs at

Nothing About Us Without Us

Nothing about us without us

Injustice is a big problem.   But it’s always a symptom of a deeper cause.

Wherever people aren’t getting their fair share, you’ll find patterns of decisions being made without genuine participation of people affected by them.

You can’t build lasting peace and you won’t get justice if people feel excluded from decisions they care about.  That works sometimes for a little while but in the end things fall apart.

If you want to fight for justice, go for root causes. Fight for good process, starting with the groups where you hold power or influence. If you don’t make good process a priority there, your base will eventually collapse and everything you’ve done will be lost.