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How Your Conflict Resolution Style Can Help You Cope with Change

Enneagram teacher Russ Hudson speaks of a trap that we can fall into: when we set up our lives just the way we like them and everything is flowing along smoothly, we can think we have it made. But whenever we depend on external circumstances for our happiness and stability, we are building on shaky ground, because changes are inevitable. In the long run, the cultivation of inner resources and resilience creates a far more solid foundation.  

We can look at our Enneagram type as a strategy for dealing with life’s ups and downs. Our ego seeks a particular form of familiarity in life, but it also provides hidden strengths that we can bring forward when the going gets rough. It can teach us how to deal with change, and point us to times when change is beneficial or even necessary. One aspect of the Enneagram is particularly useful for understanding and coping with various aspects of change: our conflict resolution strategy, or Harmonic group. Understanding which approach we use can help us draw on our strengths in facing change, and apply new approaches we may not typically use.

The Emotional Realness Triad (Enneagram types 4, 6, and 8) brings emotions to the forefront in times of change. These types naturally use the strategy of digging up truths about where they and others stand and what problems they’re dealing with. Seeking to get to the bottom of things, they may be the first to recognize when a change is needed, and to deal with the messy emotional realities that it involves. Emotional realness types can draw on the strategies of the other two triads to strategize and contextualize changes.  

The Competency Triad (Enneagram types 1, 3, and 5) brings the gift of problem solving. When something changes, these types easily brainstorm ways of coping, bringing in logic and reason. They have the ability to remain impartial and strategic. What’s the best way to handle the changes that arise? Drawing on the strengths of the other triads can help them cut through the brainstorming to identify strategies that are also emotionally resonant and move them toward their best outcome.

The Positive Outlook Triad (Enneagram types 2, 7, and 9) brings in the big picture. Less daunted by change than the other styles, these types have the ability to take a bird’s-eye view of its implications and imagine the positive consequences that can result. What can this change bring me? Why does it matter? Their contextualizing ability often enables them to maintain positivity even when the immediate situation is less than ideal. Bringing in the other two styles can ground their optimism in wise action.   

Recognizing our default way of tackling change is useful for expanding it. When we access the strengths of all three styles, we deal more effectively with the changes life springs on us, and are able to initiate positive changes and solutions for ourselves. One thing’s for sure: change happens. No life can stay static. We can learn to draw on our inner as well as outer resources to handle change constructively.


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Resolving Conflict with the Enneagram

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Think back to the last time you got into a conflict. Did you see the situation one way while the other person had a completely different way of looking at things? Maybe you wanted to work things out logically but the other person kept telling you to look on the bright side, or asking how you felt about the issue. Maybe it was the other way around.

No matter how much we work on ourselves, sometimes unavoidable challenges, breakdowns in communication, and misunderstandings lead to conflict with others. Conflict isn’t always bad; it empowers parties to increase their understanding of each other and move forward in a way that benefits everyone. In order to keep conflict positive and solution-focused, it’s helpful to learn how others react under stress.

Borrowing from ideas in psychology, Don Riso and Russ Hudson identified three Harmonic Groups, clusters of personality types that react in distinctive ways when facing conflict. Here’s a brief introduction to the Harmonic Groups, with ideas for resolving differences with people of every style.

The Positive Outlook Triad (Enneagram types 2, 7, and 9) wants to look on the rosy side of things. When in conflict, their first instinct is to avoid sweating the small stuff and look at the best possible outcome. At the high side of this style, positive outlook types frame challenges into a broader context and assist others in seeing when conflicts do – and don’t – need to be addressed. The challenge is that sometimes people who use this dominant style avoid actively addressing conflicts when necessary, causing them to grow bigger. Positive Outlook types benefit from having teammates frame conflicts in a positive way, including showing how immediately addressing the problem will help in the big picture.

The Competency Triad (Enneagram types 1, 3, and 5) wants to solve problems using their objectivity. When in conflict, their first instinct is to use logic and analysis to discuss and solve the presenting challenge. At its best, this style keeps the focus of the team on the problem and quickly identifies and implements a great solution to the conflict. The challenge is that sometimes people who use this dominant style get bogged down in details, causing overly long discussions and solutions that miss the big picture. Competency types benefit from having teammates bring in the broader picture and emotional weight any decision carries, by describing it in a solution-oriented manner.

The Emotional Realness Triad (Enneagram types 4, 6, and 8) wants to address the underlying emotional dynamics of problems. Their first instinct in a conflict situation is to express their feelings – both positive and negative – and to learn the feelings of others involved. When used well, all the parties quickly learn where the other stands and proceed to a resolution that takes into account everyone’s desires. The challenge is that sometimes people who use this dominant style can get caught in a never-ending loop of expressing emotions, without coming to a solution. Emotional Realness types benefit from having teammates disclose their honest feelings (in a manner appropriate to the situation), while also steering the conversation to finding a resolution.

Each Harmonic Group, at its highest level of expression, brings gifts to conflict resolution. The highest mode of conflict resolution involves using all three styles: drawing on the strengths of your own style while integrating the gifts of the other two. As we learn to use conflict resolution strategies that don’t come as naturally to us, we bring smoother sailing to life’s challenges. How will you bring all three styles into your office and home this week?