Is Conflict REALLY That Complex?

Posted on May 21st, 2012 by micka002

Before going further, I want to address an important concern.

When I say that good-bad dichotomies are seldom accurate when working with conflict and that everyone is a victim and everyone is a perpetrator (see my previous Complexity of Conflict blog) , some people rightly point out that when an established “right” has been violated, there seems to be a clear victim and a clear perpetrator.

For example, if the police refuse to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf person (whose native language is American Sign Language) in order to understand why they have been arrested,  what their rights are and what bail procedures entail, there is likely a violation of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA). Or if a landlord evicts a tenant by throwing their belongings onto the sidewalk and locking them out without first taking the matter to court, there may be a clear violation of the law. In those cases, isn’t there a clear victim and a clear perpetrator?

Well, yes, as far as “rights” are concerned.

But even though the police or landlord scenario might involve a clear violation of the law (rights), behavior that lead up to the rights violation might not be so clear-cut. The deaf person may have been belligerent during the arrest procedure or in asking for an interpreter. The tenant may have a history of not paying rent or abusing the landlord’s property. So even though the deaf person and the tenant are “victims” with regards to their rights being violated, they may have been “perpetrators” of sorts in acts leading up to the violation. This might not always be the case, but in my experience as an attorney, mediator, and conflict coach, such scenarios are not uncommon. Not always; but often.

My point is this – pointing a finger and saying that someone else is TOTALLY to blame for a situation is often far too simplistic. We are all creatures of habit who when under stress, tend to do things that often aren’t very pretty. But hey, we’re human. We aren’t perfect. All I’m saying is that to pretend that we aren’t “bad actors” at times keeps us from seeing who we really are and maintains an illusionary existence that blinds us to those habits that create recurring bouts of conflict.

So the real question, the important question, is “Why is it that we sometimes act in ways that contribute to conflict?”

Enneagram Type and Conflict

Those of you who know the Enneagram are aware that we all adopt strategies in an attempt to fulfill our basic needs for

  • autonomy and control of our environment,
  • connection with others and a sense of being loved/loveable, and
  • safety and security.

We all have these 3 needs, but for each of us one is dominant.

Those who have autonomy and control of environment as their primary concern adopt 3 different and distinct strategies for attempting to get that need met. Those who have connection with others and the desire to be acceptable/loveable in the eyes of others as their primary concern adopt 3 different and distinct strategies. And those who have safety and security as their primary concern adopt yet again 3 different and distinct strategies. Thus, 9 different strategies.

And while these strategies are crucial in our earlier years, they later become our “default” patterns/habits for dealing with life when they may not be the most effective means of getting what we really want.

For example:

  • In striving to be good and right, 1s often insist that they know what needs to be/should be done and insist that others “get on board” and follow the same course of action even if others have different ideas about what might be done.
  • In striving to be helpful and connected, 2s sometimes insist that they be allowed to help with a problem — even if the other person doesn’t think they have a problem!
  • In striving to be successful in an efficient and no nonsense manner, 3s can “run over” people who aren’t fast enough or quick to get with the game plan.
  • In striving to be unique and authentic, 4s might insist on their idealized notion of how something should be done – with meaning, beauty, and depth.
  • In striving to be knowledgeable and private, 5s can seem aloof, distant and fail to connect with loved ones or work colleagues in ways that others consider essential.
  • In the process of striving to be safe and secure, 6s can engage in constant challenging and nay-saying that frustrates others who want/need to make a decision and move forward.
  • 7s, in striving to have opportunities and not be limited, can become scattered and unfocused when others on a work team might need the 7’s focus and commitment.
  • 8s, insisting on a “my way or the highway” approach to an issue, can intimidate or overpower others.
  • 9s, striving to be peaceful and harmonious, can avoid making tough decisions that need to be made, while others become frustrated and/or angry as a result of no decision being made.

In the language of interest-based negotiations, when we adhere to the striving of our Enneagram Type, we often get locked into “positions” and fail to explore both our own real “interests” and the interests of the other parties. This keeps us engaged in the conflict and/or results in compromises that leaves “value on the table” with neither party/person satisfied.

The challenge is to recognize our (Enneagram-based and other) default patterns/habits and to make conscious choices about whether to stick with that strategy in a particular situation or whether to adopt another strategy that might be more effective, efficient, appropriate and compassionate.

I’ll begin to explore how we can make more conscious decisions, and avoid reactivity, in my next blog.


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