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Conflict and the Enneagram | A Guest Blog by Curt Micka, JD

Context

During the past year, I’ve been working with the Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP) in D.C. to help staff from USAID, the Centers for Disease Control, the US State Dept and the Dept of Defense figure out how to more successfully and constructively move from conflict to collaboration. It’s this work that’s motivated me to further explore the connections between the Enneagram and conflict.

These people are working on issues of HIV/AIDS, malaria prevention and treatment, and maternal and child health care. They’ve been frustrated finding that US government agencies, the governments in countries where they work, NGOs (non-governmental organizations that U.S. government agencies contract with to provide direct services), and the people who they’re trying to help end up working at cross-purposes with one another. Rather than sharing and leveraging resources, they find everyone working to protect and promote their own turf and to further their own priorities and objectives. As a result, outcomes suffer and they aren’t able to help people in the way or to the extent that they wish was possible.

This is a common scenario that I’ve experienced everywhere. I realize that people live and work within their own “silos;” focus on their respective interests and priorities; and are driven by needs for security and certainty, connection and approval, and autonomy and independence. We all do it ­– at work, in relationships, in social settings, within our places of worship. It’s natural to do so, but as a result, clashes soon arise. People have different interests and priorities; their foci of attention are radically different; conflicts arise.

As a result, the challenge for me and for our training team has been to help people move from an attitude and stance of defensiveness and reactivity, of rigidity and self-righteousness to openness and curiosity, authenticity and collaboration.

What Occurred
With a small group of other trainers – Drew Lent from the GHFP and either Dr. David Daniels, Joan Ryan, or Penny Joy Day, an Enneagram teacher in South Africa – I met in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Johannesburg (South Africa), Kampala (Uganda) and Naivasha (Kenya) with staff from US Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control, the US State Department and the US Department of Defense.  In each location, we worked with 20-45 staff, sometimes an intact team and sometimes people who had never met each other. In 3-4 day programs with each group, we used short didactics and panels to introduce people to the Enneagram and we incorporated both small group and fishbowl exercises that allowed people to practice these new skills.  In Naivasha, I also facilitated an all-afternoon fishbowl discussion of an on-going (2-3 year) conflict from which people could not unhook, using the facilitated discussion as a learning tool. (They discovered that they had been trying to answer the wrong question!)

Lessons Learned
What I’ve learned is that collaboration is a two-sided task.  First, it requires inner self-awareness of our personal defensiveness and reactivity, how and when we contribute to conflict, and how self-awareness can help us make more conscious choices about how we engage and manage conflict. Second, it requires knowledge of how we get trapped in “positions” and how a lack of “rules of engagement” (e.g. understanding whether people at the table have settlement authority, making sure that people who need to “buy into” an agreement have input in the process, agreement as to whether a meeting is to discuss process, brainstorm, make decisions, etc.) can undermine collaborative attitudes and behaviors.

We used the Enneagram to help people develop greater self-awareness and the ability to manage their defensiveness and reactivity. And they loved it!!  They got excited to see that their focus of attention is not the same as others. Nor is what motivates them. And it was fun to see doctors, lawyers, administrators (including native Africans from a host of different tribes and cultures) see themselves in new ways and see their co-workers, their partners, and their loved ones with new understanding and compassion!

And yet, a point of resistance always arose. People feared that being more open, curious, and empathic would make them more vulnerable, less effective and/or become “losers” in the game of work and relationships.

I know this isn’t true if people make conscious choices. It’s true. It’s not always possible, nor smart, to be collaborative. However, when we’re adversarial or compromising or capitulating simply because it’s our default mode, we lose ourselves. We lose our power. We lose our ability to be more: to be bigger; to be more impactful; and to be more caring and compassionate.

When I stop and reflect, here are some of the key learnings:
·       Our type structure works to naturally lock us into “positions” that, in turn, tend to make “enemies” of co-workers, loved ones, and others with whom we have a vested interest in working with collaboratively.
·       John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite who has worked for 30+ years in developing countries to help resolve many armed conflicts, says that real peacemaking involves the following:
-The ability to imagine a web of relationships that includes our “enemies”
-The discipline to sustain curiosity
-The eternal belief in the creative act
-The willingness to take a risk
-However, these principles are incredibly difficult to embody. We can’t do so without the self-awareness that the Enneagram provides.
·       Our psychological interests include the need for appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status, and maintaining one’s role identity. To the extent that one or more of these interests is not met, conflict arises. And the importance and intensity of these psychological interests is often impacted by our Enneagram type structure.
·       Self-awareness, self-management, and greater emotional intelligence are prerequisites for successful collaboration, but they aren’t sufficient. We can approach conflict with an open, curious, and authentic stance, but if we can’t see when and how we’re locked into a “position” and/or when we’re negotiating along a “win-lose” or “zero sum” continuum, the outcome will not be collaborative and much potential value will likely be left “on the table.”

This has been a rich and hopeful year for me, a year that has convinced me that there’s a real hunger for dealing with conflict differently and that I have a role in making that happen.

Curt Micka is a lawyer, Enneagram teacher, masterful mediator, and Senior Member of The Enneagram in Business Network, who works with clients to resolve conflicts collaboratively and to learn a great deal about themselves in the process. Curt can be reached at micka001@att.net.

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