Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Making Peace: Experts help reduce conflict through self-awareness

Like it or not, conflict is an unavoidable daily reality. It comes up on the job, within relationships, at school and in international relations. If not handled properly, it can lead to stress, divorce, alienation or, in extreme cases, war.

But before people can learn how to reduce conflict, according to Stanford psychiatry professor David Daniels, they need to learn how to understand themselves. Daniels is a renowned expert on the Enneagram, an ancient personality system exploring nine types of thinking that influence how folks view the world.

"The brain is literally a pattern machine, and the Enneagram is about nine fundamental styles of adapting to the world to have a satisfying life," Daniels explains. "These are adaptive patterns that go all the way back to early childhood, so we believe in them."

Daniels identifies as a Type Six, also known as "The Loyal Skeptic," which means that he pays particular attention to avoiding potential hazards. This point of view, established at a young age, creates adults who are trustworthy and inquisitive but can also be overly doubtful and fearful.

"Lots of times, it's just my magnification of things," Daniels says. "I can really count on you, but I'm taking some little incident, I'm magnifying it, I'm blowing it up, and then I can get accusatory toward you. That'll take me right into conflict."

The Enneagram makes people more aware of how their personality type deals with embedded beliefs and behaviors that might keep them in repeated circles of conflict. Daniels says you need to notice when you "start to get upset and reactive" and how to "befriend your reactivity."

Daniels, who co-wrote the best-selling book "The Essential Enneagram," is coming to Portland to teach a two-day workshop about how the Enneagram can bring harmony to people's lives. He will be joined by Curt Micka, a former attorney who has worked as a professional mediator for more than 20 years.

Because each Enneagram personality type has a different "lens" through which it views the world, Daniels explains, it's important to acknowledge what biases each party brings to the table. For example, Type Two, also known as "The Giver," notices the needs of others, but Type Seven, also known as "The Epicure," is more self-centered. Meanwhile, Type Three, also known as "The Performer," demands attention, but Type Five, also known as "The Observer," requires privacy.

However, Daniels adds, this doesn't mean that a couple who share the same personality type will necessarily get along. Say, if two people both identify as Type One, also known as "The Perfectionist," they still might disagree about how to raise children, how to be intimate or even how to clean the house.

"It's a mistake to think that all Type Ones are neat freaks, so to speak," Daniels says. "They both can have high internal standards about what's the one right way, but the content of those standards can be hugely different."

According to the Enneagram, some of the more emotional personality types — such as Type Eight, also known as "The Protector," and Type Four, also known as "The Romantic" — tend to attract conflict. Others tend to avoid conflict altogether, which Micka emphasizes is not a sustainable solution.

"Avoiding conflict is a very common strategy for dealing with conflict," he says. "The reality is that it doesn't make the conflict go away. You simply end up burying and suppressing a whole lot of stuff, including emotions, that usually leaks out one way or another."

The workshop will focus on what Daniels calls "The Four A's" that are essential for mastering conflict:

1. Awareness. Get more grounded and receptive.
2. Acceptance. Approach the situation without judgment.
3. Action. Pause for self-inquiry, which can lead to conscious conduct.
4. Adherence. Practice these methods every day.

Daniels says conflict resolution requires people to know the difference between the position-based approach, where each side digs into its trench, and the more efficient interest-based approach, which seeks common solutions, shared interests and mutual prosperity. "When you don't get reactive and you can just be there in the present working with these adversaries, it's hard for them to stay in an adversarial position."

Micka says the workshop will be ideal for therapists, spiritual directors, mediators and attorneys. However, he notes, nonprofessionals will get just as much out of the experience.

"We all encounter conflict on a day-to-day basis," Micka says. "Differences are a part of life, and learning how to deal with them more constructively is valuable for anybody."

"The Enneagram's Gift to Mastering Conflict Constructively and Compassionately" features panels, lectures and small-group exercises from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 6 and 7 in Room 238 at Portland State University's Smith Memorial Student Union, 1825 S.W. Broadway. The registration fee is $150 before Feb. 28 and $175 after. For more information click here.

1 comment:

mln said...

Interesting. I'm always a skeptic about catagorizing/over-simplifying people... but like these sorts of things if they are used for self-reflection and discovery; along with an understanding that a "type" is a snapshot, and not fixed in stone.