In my last blog, I mentioned the challenge of recognizing our Enneagram-based default patterns/habits that get us into and keep us stuck in conflict. But we also have natural gifts and abilities that help us stay out of conflict or resolve conflict in a constructive, collaborative, creative and compassionate way.
So what are the ‘natural’ conflict management gifts of the nine (9) Enneagram Types?
Ones, Threes, and Fives (sometimes called the Competency Types) have a natural tendency to approach conflict rationally and objectively. They’re the “problem solvers” of the world. And from the perspective of conflict theory, they often have the ability to attack problems rather than people. They can shift or re-focus a discussion from what someone did or didn’t do or why someone is “impossible” to work with (or be in relationship with) to a discussion of what the problem is and how both people can work to make it better. When personally attacked, people naturally become defensive and reactive and work to justify their past behavior(s). And unless you’re in court, assigning fault and blame is not particularly helpful to moving forward. Talking objectively about what has and has not worked and how to create a relationship that works for both people is much more helpful.
Fours, Sixes and Eights (sometimes called the Emotional Realness Types) have a natural tendency and ability to address the emotional or feeling aspects of conflict. They have the ability to “get real” about what a conflict is all about. The book Difficult Conversations does a great job of pointing out that conversations (and conflict) involve 3 distinct conversations – the “What Happened”, the “Feelings” and the “Identity” Conversation. If people try to solve a conflict solely with a “What Happened” or factual discussion of who did what and what we want/need differently in the future, the conflict often won’t be resolved. Or it will be resolved on the surface with lingering resentment about the fact that psychological need(s) for acknowledgement, appreciation, status, role, etc where never discussed or addressed. If the underlying basis for a conflict is about how I feel and think about myself (my self-identity and self-worth) and this is never discussed, I’m going to have lingering issues going forward that are bound to surface again.
Twos, Sevens and Nines (sometimes called the Positive Outlook Types) have a natural tendency and gift to focus on the future and on possibilities for how the future can be better. You might hear them say something like: “Ok, that’s the past. Now how can we make the future better?” Why is this important from the perspective of conflict theory? Because we can’t change the past. We can only work to make the future better. We can apologize or make amends, but ultimately it’s about what each person chooses to do differently in the future to change the dynamic of the personal or professional relationship.
So we all have natural gifts and skills when it comes to resolving conflict. The key is to remember that all 3 approaches are important. If we focus solely on problem-solving while ignoring the feelings and identify concerns of another, the conflict won’t go away. And if we focus solely on the emotional content without discussing our commitment to doing things differently in the future, the conflict will likely remain.
Now if only I could remember this!!