When People Interrupt

The problem we saw in tonight's presidential debate is familiar to any mediator: How do you keep angry people from interrupting each other? Chris Wallace demonstrated clearly tonight that good journalists are not necessary good facilitators!

There's actually a fairly simple solution. You have to establish a ground rule at the beginning - no interruptions. And you have to enforce it, not after four, five, or six interruptions, but the very first time it happens.

You need to stop the proceedings cold, right there, turn physically towards the interrupter and speak directly and firmly: "Mr. Trump, our ground rule is no interruptions, and we won't be able to proceed if people don't stick to it. I need your commitment to support the process. Can you give it?" And then you need to wait silently for the interrupter to give it. In 35 years of mediation and facilitation, I've never had a client refuse to do so.

I've trained thousands of mediators and seen that the tendency for most mediators, like Chris Wallace tonight, is the opposite. They ignore interruptions at first, hoping they will go away. But they don't. One interruption will always be followed by more.

Parties size up very quickly whether they can get away with ignoring rules or not. If you give them several experiences of squeezing in their interruptions unrebuked, they see that the rule isn't really serious, and the problem gets worse and worse.

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Parenting Changed My Conflict Style

Part One in a three-part series applying insights from conflict styles to parent-child relationships.  By Laura Bowles, coach and mediator, Style Matters trainer, and founder of The New Normal, LLC

Being a parent changes many things!  For me,  my conflict style was one of those.

On the Style Matters inventory, my highest score in Storm is Harmonizing.  This means that when things get tense, I tend to focus on keeping others happy, and I am quick to let go of my own goals and agendas if necessary to achieve that.   I think of myself as flexible and responsive to others!

Conflict comes with parenting. However, it got complicated when I became a parent. I quickly realized that I couldn’t let go of my agenda all of the time. I have a duty to set boundaries with my kids, and often it’s right to be firm about those boundaries.  You have to wear clothes!  Brush your teeth! Don’t jump into water that’s over your head if you can’t swim!  

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About Ron Kraybill


Chances are you know me as author of the Style Matters conflict style inventory.  You may not know that I’ve spent 40+ years in peacebuilding, often in very challenging circumstances.   That includes living with my family in conflict zones on four continents, sometimes in situations of high danger and always working closely with individuals and groups who were deeply involved in local or national struggles for justice, development or peace. 

I’ve been deeply immersed in a lot of promising things over the years,  ranging from street level work to initiatives with national political leadership.  

Something stands out to me today in my sixties that I couldn’t see in my thirties: the biggest obstacle to doing the work for change, healing, peace, etc.,  is not lack of money, training, or facilities.   

It’s also not lack of vision or hope.

The big limitation I’ve repeatedly encountered in initiatives for healing in our world is the frailties and vulnerabilities of people like me.  

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Things fall apart. How to respond?


These are scary times, and it's not just COVID19.  Polarization is rooted now in ways not experienced in living memory.  Groups live in separate worlds, with their own news, networks, rhetoric, and influencers.  Violence, threats of violence, and disregard for democratic processes are commonplace.  It is not exaggerating to say that  the rule of law and democracy seem to be in danger.  

What can we do about it?  The causes are many; there will be no single solution.  High on the list of essential responses, I believe,  must be strategies to improve skills in resolving conflicts and building consensus.   But how?

Our methods of making decisions and resolving conflict are out-dated.

Author and former CIA analyst Martin Gurri points out that public institutions today are an inheritance of the 20th century, "the heyday of the top-down, I-talk-you-listen model of organizing humanity. They are too ponderous and too distant from ordinary people. Legitimacy depended on control over information: failure and scandal could be dealt with discreetly. Once the digital tsunami swept away the possibility of control, the system lapsed into crisis." (see his dialogue with Yuval Levin here)

Like it or not, there's no going back to the old ways of leading and managing.  We must expand the skill set of leaders at all levels. 

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How to Manage Your Storm Shift


 

 

Does your behavior in conflict change sharply when you get upset?  Do you turn suddenly aggressive when surprised or angered?  Or, when conflict heats up, does your assertiveness quickly fade, replaced by avoidance or accommodation?

What is a Storm Shift?

Such patterns may reflect a strong Storm Shift in conflict, a marked change in behavior as stress rises.  Stress, anger, or fear trigger a shift in brain functioning, away from rational "upper brain" management, towards control by the instinct-guided "lower brain".   This can bring drastic changes in response to conflict.

A Storm Shift is not necessarily bad; it can in fact be good if your automatic responses are skillful and appropriate for the situation triggering them.  You want the surgeon who operates on you to react instantly, for example, if your blood pressure drops.  You want a quick shift to a different modality, an instant command of the situation, with clear orders to the medical team.  No negotiating, no pussyfooting around!

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Use this tool to talk about COVID19




 

 



With COVID19 cases rocketing once again, old questions return.    We are all inescapably affected by the behaviors of others on this so we have to work out the answers with other people around us. 

As much as possible, we need to do this through dialogue. In my Style Matters framework that's the Cooperating conflict style; Thomas and Kilmann call it Collaborating. Solutions achieved through dialogue garner more support and trigger less resistance than solutions imposed from above.

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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. 

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Harmonize Gracefully



 

Don't you love it when somebody readily agrees to do things your way?  Negotiating can be tiring.  It's a gift when someone just smiles and - no persuasion needed - says "OK, I can go with that!"   

Fourth of a series on five conflict styles, this post showcases the Harmonizing conflict style.  With a focus on the relationship, setting aside your own wishes,  Harmonizing is not always a good option.  But in well-chosen situations, Harmonizing  is a great gift to those you live and work with, and potentially you as well.   I'll show you a handful of transition phrases to help you shift gracefully into this conflict response.

Why Harmonize?

Harmonizing brings grace, kindness and flexibility into relationships.  Longterm partnerships need generous amounts of this other-oriented conflict style to thrive.  Without it, endless disputation will wear you out and leave little room for joy.

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Career in Conflict Resolution?


Everywhere I’ve lived and worked, I’ve met people who feel a deep inner echo to the idea of making peace. I’m a bit mystical about such things. An inner echo is one mark of a calling and I have a lot of time for people hearing it.

But then it gets complicated. How to get from inner echo to outer action? Sustaining my own call over 37 years and observing others, I’ve learned a few things:

View a job in conflict resolution and peacebuilding as a long-term objective. 

Almost nobody gets a degree in conflict resolution and then walks straight into a job in the field. You prepare and position yourself, you build experience and relationships, and if you are fortunate a path opens. Usually slowly. Which means that, unless you are independently wealthy, you need to….

Maintain at least one area of expertise or credentials besides peacebuilding. 

Most people with a job in conflict resolution subsidized their interest for a number of years with something else. It takes a while to build up experience and a reputation in conflict resolution. In the meantime you’ve got to eat. Whether law, social work, editing, teaching, web freelancing, pastoring, or carpentry, you’ll probably need something else to live on. This is not a bad thing at all. There’s more than financial reasons to have a second set of credentials.

The path to full-time work in conflict resolution often runs through something else you’re already good at.

 People in conflict don’t want just any old mediator. They want someone competent in the area of their disagreement. Businesses want assistance from someone who understands business; schools, an educator. Religious organizations want “one of us.” International organizations seek facilitators, trainers, and consultants with deep knowledge of a region or relevant disciplines. So expertise in another area gives you your best opportunities for building a career in conflict resolution.

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Join our Training Series


Want to lead a conflict styles workshop? Join me on November 21 for the first in a series of short webinars, Training with the Style Matters Conflict Style Inventory, I'm leading for trainers.
 
Scheduled for 11am Eastern time on Wednesday, the 21st of November, this thirty minute introductory webinar is for anyone considering Style Matters for training purposes and for current users wanting to update their knowledge.  It will enable you to:
  • choose among several options available for the format and method right for you and your setting;
  • design and lead a conflict styles workshop corresponding to your existing skills; 
  • equip yourself with resources for effective presentation of concepts
I'll give input for about 15 minutes and we'll have about 15 minutes open for questions.
 
Topics in future webinars will include:
  • interpreting scores
  • use of movement to raise energy and engagement in workshops
  • cross-cultural issues in conflict styles training and how to address them with Style Matters
  • creating assignments and other followup activities to expand the window of learning
As the first run of this series we're offering this free.  Seats are limited.   Register now! 
 
Enter your name and email address and you will then receive a confirmation email with info for joining the webinar on the 21st.
 
 

Talk to Your Angry Uncle


If like millions of other Americans, you will eat turkey on the holidays with family members on a different location on the political spectrum than you, take a look at this interactive New York Times essay with suggestions for how to manage.



For an idea of how many people struggle with this, read the Comments suggestion! For an idea of how many people struggle with this, read the Comments section following the essay!   

Many commenters suggest avoidance, a response we recognize and respect in the Style Matters conflict style inventory.  Some don’t even go to family gatherings anymore because they’re too contentious.  Total avoidance is an extreme response I find hard to justify except for extreme situations.  



Others counsel diligent avoidance of certain topics, a wise response if the emotional maturity and skill required on at least one side for useful exchange are missing.

This author offers a series of practical suggestions for gentle engagement, set in the context of a bot that the reader interacts with, choosing recommended responses.   Readers point out that the angry uncle turns soft too easily in the essay, a fair point.  But the techniques are still worth knowing and exploring – you’ll use them with a partner or child or friend someday even if they aren’t right for quelling Uncle Bluster!

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


Trainers considering Style Matters as a conflict style inventory should be aware of two other options as well, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and the Hammer Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory.   Style Matters has been optimized for the majority of conflict resolution trainers.  But a percentage of trainers might benefit from a specialized tool.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Optimized for psychometrics. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, also known as the TKI, was developed in the 1970s with a priority on psychometric validation.

The Thomas-Kilmann is noted for its commitment to psychometrics, reflected in its commitment to the use of a question format that forces users to choose between only two possible options in responding. Although some users find this format annoying, authors Thomas and Kilmann retain it because it results, they say, in more accurate data.   For a description of my own experience with the TKI, see my blog post on it.

If psychometrics is your over-riding concern, and issues such as user friendliness, cultural flexibility, and cost have little bearing for you, the Thomas-Kilmann is probably the right choice.

Cost is $19.50 per user.   A trainer's guide is available for $250.  

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New Trainers Guides


If you're interested in leading conflict styles training, download my 2019 trainers' guides with a single click below.   To get notice future updates and my blog posts for conflict styles trainers, sign up on the lower right to the trainers list.  I post only a few times per year and I won't share your email address!

Comprehensive Guide.  My comprehensive Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops is now in its 4th edition.  The 2019 update  is the same as previous editions, now newly edited for clarity and ease of use.  The 40 page guide provides detailed guidance for training with Style Matters (or the Thomas Kilmann or other inventories based on a similar five styles framework) and many suggestions for presenting information and leading discussion.  Download the Trainers Guide in PDF free here.

Guide to Online Version. We've also just released a 10 page companion piece, Trainers Guide to Style Matters Online. Whereas the above guide provides detailed guidance on all aspects of conflict styles training,  this short guide focuses narrowly on work with the online version of Style Matters.  If refers often to the full guide, so you should have both. Download the online training guide here.

 
A key part of the Riverhouse mission is to enable anyone with basic group facilitation skills to lead an effective learning experience on the topic of conflict styles. 
 
Every person, every organization, and every community faces conflict throughout the life cycle.  Failure to equip people to deal constructively with conflict is, we believe, one of the greatest obstacles to human well-being.  Addressing this gap is an achievable opportunity for every organization and community to improve the quality of life in fundamental ways.
 
These trainers guides are central to our mission of supporting trainers on a large scale to address this glaring learning gap.
 

Lead without Bullying


We're reading a lot these days about leaders who bully. 

In "When the Boss is a Bully", a recent NY Times article points out that aggressive toughness has its rewards.  Some people like the idea of a very task focused leader.   Better to have a leader who gets the job done, albeit rudely, than one who nicely fails to deliver. 

People tend to extend the benefit of any doubt to a leader who acts decisively, according to research cited in the Times article.  One researcher calls this the "leader's rosy halo" effect, a tendency for others to fall back and follow someone who is bold, decisive, and confident.  There is no evidence pushy leaders offer better solutions than anyone else, but others are attracted to decisiveness and tend to follow.  

  

Conflict Styles and Strong Leadership

A key concept in the conflict styles framework is that every conflict style has strengths and weaknesses.  We need all five styles.   Don't write off toughness just because it's not nice.

I learned this the hard way in my twenties when I found myself regretting I had not been more firm with my dog in training.  One day she ignored my call, as she often did.  She ran onto a road, and died under a car.   

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Homework on Conflict Styles


 

Life spares no one from conflict.  But unfortunately the word has not yet reached the schools that train professionals.

Name the profession - engineering, teaching, business, social work, lawyer, religion, medicine, whatever.   Few professional schools in these professions offer students training in how to navigate the conflicts that come with practice of that profession.

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

Assignment: Write a Reflection Paper

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



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

Assignment: Apply Conflict Styles Framework to  Personal Conflict

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

Assignment: Discuss Conflict Styles in Study Group or Work Team

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

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I would love to hear your ideas for effective learning experiences outside of the classroom!  Please send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   With your permission, I'll publish the best ones here. 

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Worry about Hornets


On September 11, 2019, President Trump warned about what America would do if attacked again. "We will go wherever they are and use power the likes of which the US has never used before and I'm not even talking about nuclear power."

This reminds me of an essay I wrote in 2002, as the Bush administration, equally confident in the efficacy of its superior arms, was moving towards war against Saddam Hussein.

The analysis is even more true now than it was then. So with only minor editing and an update to the present at the end, I republish it now.

* * * * * * * *

A bear hunter gets stung by hornets. Angry, and confident in his firepower, he follows them to their nest. Boom! Lookout, feller!

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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.    

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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.  

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Lead Conflict Styles Training


 
 
 
This post is for people who want to help a team or group improve their patterns of dealing with conflict.  With the materials here, you can do this without outside assistance, even if you’ve never led a conflict styles workshop before, so long as you're comfortable leading a group discussion.
 
The resources below are for use with Style Matters Online, which harnesses digital power to do interpretation that required an expert in the past.  The Style Matters algorithm combs a user’s scores for insights and presents them in a detailed, eight page report that can be easily understood without additional input. 
 
With this score report, anyone with ordinary group facilitation skills can lead an effective learning experience, drawing on the free resources below.

Conversation to Assist Learning

A feature we’ve added to recent upgrades is suggestions for partners.  Many conflict style assessments (eg: the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument) address the user only as an individual.  "Here’s your scores, here’s how you compare to others, here's what your numbers mean, etc." 
 
That's like clapping with one hand.   Conflict happens in relationships and learning about dealing with it happens best in the context of relationships.  We can start on our own, but in conversation with others is where the real payoffs take place.  
 
So a section of the Style Matters score report is for conversation with partners or colleagues of the user, and offers a list of suggestions based on the user's score report for when things are dicey.   The goal is for people in long-term partnerships to review these together, and proactively negotiate patterns of communication that work well in times of difficulty.    

Resources For Trainers

Here's  what you need to design and implement an effective learning experience with Style Matters Online:

  • Download Trainers Big Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Training.   This free 45 page guide to conflict styles training explains the five styles of conflict, the concepts of Calm and Storm, how to work with the cross-cultural aspects of Style Matters, and provides step-by-step guidance through a workshop.   In addition you need...

  • Download Trainers Small Guide to Style Matters Online.   This free 10 page supplement builds on concepts in the big guide above and applies them to training with the online version.   If you’re just facilitating a conversation, you can get by with just this supplement to design your discussion.  If you’re feeling ambitious and expecting to give inputs as an active trainer role,  you should have both.   

  • View Intro to Conflict Styles slide show, available in either traditional Powerpoint format or dynamic Prezi format.    This short slide show, free for online viewing and available for purchase offline, introduces core concepts of the five styles of conflict and serves as a great prelude to discussion of score reports.

  • Videos.  There are several short videos to help users interpret their scores on our site.   You might want to encourage your users to review one or several of them before a workshop.  You'll find them useful to you as a trainer as well, for their present key concepts concisely.  

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We Can Avoid Mask Conflict


There are a lot of stories going around about conflicts over wearing masks.  See for example this account in the New York Times. 
 
The evidence is now clear that masking makes a huge difference in infection rates.  All we have to do is get everyone to mask properly, and we can drastically reduce the rate of infections and deaths,  without closing down the economy.  It’s a no-brainer.  
 
So how to get there quickly, without needless conflict?
 
  1.  Leadership. The first step is clear direction and leadership from leaders.   We have to establish a new norm here, and quickly, friends!   It must start with those in charge - at whatever social level they exist in - fully embracing the need for masking and sending unambiguous signals in support of it.   No hemming and hawing, no “maybe this, maybe that”.  

    Wearing a mask is inconvenient and uncomfortable.   It’s not easy in the best of circumstances to move a population to do this.   There's no chance of success if leaders don't lead here, from president on down to the smallest local unit.

  2. Consistent modeling is essential.    Being an outstanding role model is one of the most effective forms of leadership.  No saying one thing and doing another!   Every time leaders appear in settings with other people, they should seize the opportunity to be a visible model of commitment to masking.   To do otherwise is to enable suffering and death. 



  3. Good Signage.  Communicate clear, written expectations of masking, at every turn.   Institutions need to message everyone who enters - from the moment they enter and followed by frequent reminders within - that masking is the norm.   Something clear and simple like “No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.”   Only with clear, visible written signs about masks as a norm is there a chance of dealing with resisters without drama.   Staff whose job it is to deal with unmasked people can’t be expected to be effective without good public signage.



  4. Followup and monitoring.  What good are signs saying “Masks required” if staff are seen striding around maskless or half-masked? Because this is an awkward, inconvenient new norm, we can't expect things to change just by issuing new policies and directives.   We must ensure that monitoring and review take place.  It’s a pain, it's true, but we can’t establish new norms quickly without effort.

Clarity and Consistency Will Go Farther than Combativeness

It’s counterproductive to view every case of an unmasked person walking through the door as the ultimate battle.  Our goal should be to achieve very high levels of masking in a very short period of time, not to compel every dissident to instantly comply in the process of establishing a new norm.

A big angry confrontation with an unmasked person is a bigger threat to health and life of everyone in the environment than allowing a stubborn non-conformist to walk around quietly unmasked. Hyperventilation, shouting, close contact or shoving are inescapably dangerous for all.



Screeners need to be trained to act in light of that fact. The goal should be persistently communicating a clear expectation, not acting like police empowered to coerce.

Training is Essential

Screeners can easily be trained in a simple series of non-coercive responses to violators:
  • Start with clear, friendly, matter-of-fact  (non-confrontational in tone and body language) statements of masking requirements,
  • Escalate as needed by repeating the requirements and adding a direct, polite request not to enter without wearing a mask (if possible helpfully offering a location to get one);
  • Further escalate as needed by: repeating the requirements and informing that entry without masking is a violation of institutional policy; and that you are required to report the incident to management (or by saying that you have to immediately contact management to act on the situation).
Note that the sequence does not end with the screener attempting to physically block a violator.  Granted, there are  situations where the entry of even one unmasked person is highly dangerous and the above sequence would need to then include physical blockage.   In such circumstances screeners need to be trained and well-equipped as security guards or have quick access to such.
 
But it’s neither realistic nor necessary to expect such high control in most settings.  The battle for masking won’t be won by imposing fortified guards at every portal of public interaction or trying to mandate ordinary staff to act like guards.  Rather we will win it by posting well-prepared screeners throughout our institutions, trained in communicating a clear expectation with minimal confrontation and no physical tussles.
 
Some screeners need to be trained to turn up their energy and volume to do this effectively; others need to learn to turn it down so as not to be overbearing.   As part of a several hour training program, a conflict style inventory is a highly effective tool in helping individuals recognize their own tendencies and calibrate their responses accordingly.   In a workshop of a few hours, individuals can assess themselves, learn a basic sequence for handling difficult situations, and practice what they are learning in roleplays.     
 
Israel, Canada, and some other countries impose stiff fines on people who violate rules on social isolation.  They're showing far better results than the US in slowing the virus.  But whether we go that route in the end or not, we'll still need screeners and strategies like the above.



Let's get on with this so we can return to something like the life we all long for!