Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Growth and Change - Conflict Styles 

Through the work of one of my classes this term, I have been doing some intentional reflecting on how I experience and handle conflict. I have had some training in this area, so I at least know the vocabularly with which to do this reflection, but I have found the process to be difficult, painful (at times), and rewarding.

In recent years I have noticed that I experience conflict in a different way than the way in which I assumed I experienced it. By which I mean that, when asked a question such as this one, I would respond that I meet conflict head on, tackling the problem or opposition with force and determination, and rarely giving in. Why I suspected that was my preferred method of conflict management I can only guess is wrapped up in the ways in which I perceive myself and traditional “alpha” male roles, conflict styles of my family of origin, and social conditioning.

However, through this process of reflection, I began to discover that I am more conflict avoidant than I either suspected I was or desire to be. I seek to avoid conflicts in the majority of situations and, when necessary, compromise to succeed in that aim. I really do not like or enjoy conflict, which confuses me given my perceptions of myself mentioned above. Part of this is because I am learning a new way to be myself as I grow into a pastoral role and part of it is likely some sort of new found maturity or self-realization, if I may be so bold as to suggest it.

When I did some formal training in conflict transformation, I took a "Personal Conflict Managment Inventory", sort of like a Temperment Sorter or a Myers-Brigg test, but attuned to the given topic. I went back this evening and looked at my results again; they surprised me a bit. The results were broken into two categories: calm and storm. Calm refers to when a conflict is in the beginning stages or is relatively peaceful and storm refers to when the shit hits the fan. My preferred style, according to the Inventory, in "calm" times was collaborative, and my back-up style was forcing. In times of "storm" it was exactly the opposite. In each of these categories the preferred style and the back-up style were only separarated by one point in "calm" and two points in "storm".

So then I thought back to some recent conflicts in which I have been involved and I was surprised to note that I collaborated in each one of them, not avoided. I believe I, in some way, perceived avoidant and collaborative behavior to be weak, and so, in my mind, lumped them together. They did not fit with how I prceived myself or how I wished to view myself. Now that I know that, I can begin the process of learning how to be the new me, if you will. Collaboration is not to be regarded as weak, and neither is avoiding behavior. Part of the benefit of knowing about different styles is being able to develop a "conflict managment toolbox" from which to draw upon your given resources.

This process has been extraordinarily interesting to me and I will definitely be continuing it throughtout this term, and hopefully will continue to grow in it throughout my life and ministry. But, it is not easy, especially when you have given yourself an unreal and I dare say unhelpful set of personal expectations. Overcoming that is my challenge and I thank God I have friends and some classmates who are willing to walk that road with me.



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