Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 3: Observing the underlying structure of conflict

So here I (Liz) am again reporting on the class. I hope that Linda will be back soon as our faithful scribe, but until then.....

I want to be clear that the notes I record here are just my impressions, there are nearly 20 of us in the workshop and I am sure we each have our own impressions. I have a request, to which you all can say "yes," "no," or "maybe later." If you think I missed or misunderstood something that happened in the class, can you please leave a comment? I think if you are are willing to do this, we might end up with a very rich representation of the space we all occupied together for two hours each Friday.

Last week's Homework: The taxonomy of offense
Roger talked a bit about investigating the taxonomy of an offense. Everyone has their own unique structure of offense. We could actually figure out exactly what "pushes our buttons" and teach someone to do just that. We often marry people who can push our buttons exactly.
Eveyone's structure of offense is different. What offends me probably wont offend you and visa versa.

Roger inquired that it may be useful to ask the question: What assumptions and structure are required for this random circumstance to appear to us as a conflict? He suggested that when we identify something as a conflict, it might serve to narrow the solution space. I am thinking of Roger's blog where he wrote about saying no. I was thinking about this as others were talking and I might have missed some of what others said here, but in my mind, conflict tends to push people to a polarized position and a compromise or new emergent, creative solution is hard to see from the extreme points. (I think this may be a good example of how the scribe interprets events through her own lens. I was thinking about polarization, but I dont really think this resonated with the group - but since I am writing this.....)

Roger asked us about the homework where we were trying to hold the counter-to-fact position of either neutrality or unconditional positive regard. We veered off to a conversation about judgment and the nature of judgment, conflict, and neutrality. Roger challenged us to consider the possibility that it is nearly impossible to hold a continuous state of no judgment. The best we can do is hold it for moments, then observe when we no long are judge-free. He urged us to observe the taxonomy of judgement. He supposed that if we try to create a moral injunction about "having no judgement," it wont work out very well....we would probably start judging ourselves for judging....

It seems the theme for me is that we can only change behaviors or cease habitual responses to events when we are able to first observe our behaviors. (Roger has given us the example in the past of observation that goes something like: When someone says something that offends or hurts, it would be great to have the disposition to observe. It's like if a cool breeze is blowing we might say: "oh, a cool breeze, I wonder what will happen next." If we could have that level of observation and wonder about our own thoughts and emotions to say "Oh, I just felt very offended, I wonder what will happen next." This has been helpful for me, except when it isn't.) Only after we can observe is there even a remote possibility that we could make choices about our response.

Someone observed that he was in a meeting with someone who was clearly practicing some kind of technique he had learned to facilitate group process. I dont know if he said what technique it was, but I imagined something like active listening. He said it was so obvious that he was just using the technique, it made everyone feel a bit like a kindergartener. Roger suggested this does happen, but we all need to practice, so it might have been better for the individual to just announce something like "I am going to practice a technique I just learned....."

We moved to a discussion about an example one of us brought regarding her experiment in attempting to hold a neutral position. She observed that the neutrality caused her to disengage. She was uncomfortable with this because she had an interest in the resolution of the conflict. Roger suggested that individuals can take a role in a group corresponding to Kantor and Lehr's 4-player model (right). These roles can be either engaged or disengaged. For instance an engaged opposer might directly bring up opposing points of view that then lead to discussions, while a disengaged opposer might act passively by withhold vital information. One way to engage as an observer is to reflect to the group your observations. These observations should be acknowledged as coming from a personal paradigm, not from the truth, but that the insights might hold some valid information.

The Value of Inquiry
Someone else in the group volunteered her viewpoint that neutrality seems like rationality. She described a situation where she is "the only rational person" in the conflict. Roger was curious about this statement and continued to inquire around it. He asked what does that do to assert you are the only rational person? She indicated everyone else would agree that she is the only rational person. Some of us were surprised at this statement. Roger continued to asked if everyone else in the conflict would agree that they are irrational. She answered "yes." (Roger did say that maybe this is the only enlightened perspective - to assert you are irrational - because in reality we all are irrational). At this point I felt uncomfortable because Roger would not drop the inquiry. His unwillingness to drop it taught me something about unconditional positive regard. He truly believed that the person in the class had a positive intention in believing she was the only rational person. After several more questions she explained what she was doing that was "rational." She explained that she cared deeply about the outcome of the conflict when the others have no vested interest. She also described methods where she effectively mediated input and held the space for effective problem solving. She described being able to skillfully recreate the interest for all parties. What she described was very rational and loving in the situation. If Roger hadn't continued to inquire, we might have been left with a completely wrong impression of her.

A Model

Next we shifted our attention to an example of a conflict between someone in the class and his wife. He described an pattern of conflict where he felt a need to correct small pieces of information she said, which very much "pushed her buttons." He recognized the involvement of his ego in these interactions in defending his intellectual, French self. In the process of describing his and his wife's interactions he asserted a model where something felt or perceived leads to the emotion which then leads to cognition or thought.

Roger asked us how would we explore the existence of the model. This is a difficult question because we barely can see the model let alone explore whether it is right.

Roger's question was so hard that several of us just wanted to help with the marital conflict.

The real questions
Roger turned our attention to the first questions for this workshop: "Who would you be without the conflict?" "How would we spend our time together if we didn't conflict?" "How long can we go without conflict?" "Are there any conflicts we keep going because they are entertaining?" "What is the purpose of conflict?" Life would probably be pretty boring without conflict. One of the necessary ingredients in conflict is an assertion of an "other." If we didn't have conflict we may actually realize that there is no "other." If there was no "other" we would have to learn to live in a boring, conflict free way. This might actually be the biggest challenge to a sustainable future for the planet (I just added that last sentence).

Roger gave us our homework and then we realized we still had almost 15 minutes left in the workshop so he had us do a practical exercise. We were to practice "reiteration." This entailed working in pairs. One person would discuss a conflict they were in and then the second person would reiterate what they heard. This was suppose to take 5 minutes each with some debriefing. After the first round Roger asked about our experience. First, the listeners said things like it was hard to keep track of the details, It was hard to pay attention after a certain point, someone created a model of the conflict in order to keep track of it. Next the speakers reflected. One said that she thought she was communicating better than she must be because the reiteration was difficult. One said he has a visual picture of the situaion and it was difficult to communicate that to the listener. We will do the second round next week.

1) given the model above (perception - emotion - cognitive) develop a methodology by which you could inquire or verify the correctness of this model.
2) find a conflict that we are entertained by, one the is giving us something to do, think about how would we spend our time if we weren't conflicting.


  1. Liz, fantastic recreation. i felt as if i were there. thank you.

  2. Hi - this is great. Thank you. One comment. In the three part model that was suggested the middle state that reads 'emergent' should read 'energetic.'

  3. Roger, i'm confused about this model. can you elaborate?

  4. Hi Liz, This is a significant undertaking! Thank you for your contribution to the blog!