Monday, November 05, 2007

Conflict Modes and Personality: Competing

Note: I have written, rewritten, rearranged and/or redone this at least four times, trying to be logical and articulate. I'm sure I have still not succeeded on that, but there you go. Just keep that in mind as you read and be kind. :)

Today and tomorrow we have Professional Development at school, and one of the first activities this morning was taking the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. There are thirty pairs of statements and you have to choose what you're more likely to do in the situation. Based on those responses, you end up 'fitting in' to one of the five conflict modes [I put that in quotation marks because you're forced to choose things that you may not ever actually do, and therefore these groupings are not necessarily valid].

This instrument is designed to measure a person's behavior in conflict situations. "Conflict situations" are those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, we can describe an individual's behavior along two basic dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person's concerns.

First up on the list is:
Competing is assertive and uncooperative -- an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person's expense. This is a power-oriented mode in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position -- your ability to argue, your rank, or economic sanctions. Competing means "standing up for your rights," defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

Twelve of my 30 responses fit into this category. I said to myself, great, I'm a forceful asshole!

Our facilitator mentioned that these modes also indicate our default personalities. Or perhaps I just heard it that way.

"Competing" certainly has a negative connotation; it implies conceit in one's own opinions and power. Winning is a positive thing in our capitalist and opportunistic Western culture, but not when one is portrayed as caring about nothing other than winning, for the sake of winning. In general, this sounds like a forceful and strong personality, completely unwilling to compromise or hear anyone out.

Let's try to articulate all the ways this is significant.

In general, if I am confronted with a debate, I will hotly argue for my own opinions. (Face it, I'm usually right. :D) I have strong ideas and clear opinions on many issues, and I will passionately work to make others see things the way I do. Does it work? Very rarely; I seem to be a poor debater. Regardless, I will always involve myself, even though it usually ends with me frustrated and inarticulate.

When it comes to issues and causes, I'm definitely passionate about doing. That's why I got involved in volunteer work and education. Contrarily, that's why I try to avoid politics and the news--so much bothers me and it works me into a rage, but I can't seem to do anything about it, not even write articulately or interestingly about it. So I just watch the Daily Show and feel glad that others are also bothered about the facades presented by our government.

If I am confronted in the street or by a coworker, I do NOT engage and compete; quite the opposite in fact, but more on that later with discussion of the other modes.

When it comes to teaching, I think this is actually a pretty valuable trait. In the classroom, I do subscribe to the "my way or the highway" idea for most things. For example, homework--do it. No forgetting, no leaving it in another room, no broken printer, no writing it in the wrong place. If it's not done and done correctly, zero. I believe this is beneficial to the students, because at this age they need to learn accountability and responsibility for themselves and their work. In the classroom during lessons and things, I am passionate about the subject, so that the students will take the subject, and me, and their own success seriously. That is vital to a successful classroom.

We must also create and uphold high standards, and then convince the children, their parents, our supervisors, even sometimes ourselves, that everyone *can* and *must* aim for those high standards. We have to admonish children for not following rules, correct their misbehaviors, teach them social mores, separate bullies...the list goes on. Teaching can be a battle (hopefully not a bloody or uncomfortable one), unifying educational ideas and goals with rowdy, rude children. All this fits right in with the Competing description: standing up for what you believe, working hard to 'win.'

When I talk to parents, similar things apply. I understand that things come up, but the student needs to do their job. Period. End of story. Obviously, this does work with some particulary nasty/insane/indifferent parents. And in those cases I still don't back down, often to the consternation of an administrator. The child is responsible for their behavior and their work, and that's all there is to it. I will not compromise on that.

In general, leaders should exhibit some of these traits, especially leaders in education. They should be willing to fight for teachers, for resources, for students, and for the well-being of the school in general. There are some issues that should not be compromised, like upholding the discipline policies or supporting teachers' rights.

Now for the personal interactions.

I certainly agree that I can be a strong personality, and I enjoy games or sports. But I've never been obsessed with "the win." I'm happy enough to be victorious, but I hate sore winners and sore losers, so I'm not one to be all, "WOO! I WIN! YOU SUCK! I'M AWESOME! YEAH ME!!"

However, as I mentioned above, I choose to see the most important aspect of this mode as standing up for your rights and beliefs. Competitors will not be bowled over or taken advantage of, because of either conviction or stubbornness, whichever you'd like to call it. We are passionate about whatever we believe.

Back in AmeriCorps, we did a lot of teambuilding/service learning. One of the most memorable was the 'box of happiness' activity. Each member of the team wrote a note about each person, saying what they appreciated about that person, and then those notes got collected into small boxes for us to keep. I still have mine, and it lives on my important tchotchkes shelf. When I first read all the notes, it was very warm-fuzzy, but then when I re-read them, I realized that basically said the same thing. I got upset (at myself? not at my teammates) that I seemed so one-dimensional. Was that really all there was to me? Is it a bad thing?

I just dug out all the notes and reread them (tearing up just a bit because I miss them, I suppose) and here's one that represents them all: "I admire your ability to speak up for what your stand for and what you think, even when you are the only one saying it."

Forceful asshole again? Being out on a limb so much that I built a home there? That's my knee-jerk lack of self-esteem perspective (back then and still now). But then I think I must adjust that, because shouldn't everyone be able to express themselves? Shouldn't everyone have a voice? Not always a voice to take over others, but to be acknowledged at the very least. I suppose that even if I was too forceful at times (which I surely was), I wasn't trying to be selfish or irritatingly righteously indignant, and my teammates were able to frame it in a positive way (for which I do need to be grateful).

Happily, several other notes also mentioned that I cared a lot about the team and our cohesiveness, so hopefully I was not despised or pigeonholed by my opinionatedness. :) (More making up words!)

When in our groups this morning at school, we discussed advantages and disadvantages. First, we as Competitors are honest about being strong-willed. That leads us to being persistent and passionate, which I've already mentioned. Unfortunately, it makes us seem inflexible and possibly intimidating. Not to mention creating conflict where it doesn't need to be.

When dealing with others, we need to remember to be patient, that not everyone is as outspoken and impassioned as we might be. But that doesn't mean those quieter folks get ignored--we need to find ways to see their points of view. Also, many times the argument is going nowhere and we just need to let go and step back, and agree to disagree. This can be very difficult for me. But I've worked on this kind of stuff and I do think I have gotten better about being strong without being forceful, standing up for myself without alienating others, and working to cooperate as much as possible.


My hope is to examine the other conflict modes each day this week, so stay tuned! Assuming you're still awake right now, that is.
Other teachers or anyone else, I would love to hear/read what you think about all this. Feel free to discuss or write your own post and link here.


Kyle said...

Hi Julie! I know I have a hard time staying patient here because my older students pretend they don't understand what I say to drag class out...anyway, sounds like you've been to some really cool spots. I would really like to get down to Australia.

AP said...

What an interesting post! I wish it were possible to easily take this assessment without ordering it. I feel like it would be so intersting to see if certain profressions tend to predominantly have people of a certain conflict mode.

(I found you through NaBloPoMo, by the way. I am in the 20 something blogger group with you)