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Interpersonal Relationships and Conflict Resolution

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Dealing with interpersonal relationships is a complex subject that is often given inadequate attention by communities. Each individual in a group has a particular and unique personality style that has been shaped by the lifetime of their experience. There are driver types and quiet folk, expressives, analyticals, reserved, shy, reactive and many others. After you have been working together for awhile, an attentive person with training will recognize members personalities and styles and then use that understanding to predict how the group will react to different situations. As the group gets into conflicts, the elements of group dynamics and personality style need to be taken into account by the facilitators of the group.

Getting to know yourself

It is important to make, even at a surface level, some determination about yourself and how you are likely to affect the group dynamic. Ask yourself : Do I talk a lot, or very little? Am I confident about myself and my ideas? Do I listen to others well, or am I impatient having to listen to others? Am I empathetic to others or do I care mostly about getting the task done? When others speak, am I listening to what they say, or thinking about what I am going to say? Am I quick to anger? Am I defensive or accepting when someone talks about my behavior? Do I ramble or am I a bulleted list sort of person? What makes me annoyed? What makes me feel good?

As you define yourself as a member of the group you will find your strengths and areas that need improving. A good exercise in community building is to share how you perceive yourself. There are a number of personality style tests that are available and offer huge value to group understanding.

Getting to know each other

Getting to know one another is not a fast process, and the more the group changes and the larger it gets the longer it takes. It is hard to trust strangers and community demands a great deal of trust. Many groups neglect this, assuming that the "business" is more important than their relationships. It can be easy to incorporate social activities as part of business meetings, but the group should also hold purely social gatherings, where the point is to have fun. Share stories of where you grew up, important turning points in your life, people who you admire. Another way is to write up biographies of each other, one member interviewing another and then keeping these in a notebook for future members to read and add to. Go out for a weekend retreat and spend time talking and learning about one another.

Working with personality style conflicts

One of the most common sources of conflict and angst in all types of intentional communities is the friction between the "doers and the talkers". This dichotomy between task and process is very common and is often a source of conflict and frustration in community.

A healthy community has a balance between task and process. Think of task and process like the wings of a bird. If one wing is shorter than the other, the bird flies around in circles. If there is mostly task and little process, the friction's between people will erupt into communication problems and the resulting conflicts keep tasks from moving forward. Conversely, too much process, and everybody spends much of their time in feelings meetings and the tasks that need doing languish. However, when task and process are balanced, both wings are working at maximum efficiency to carry the community in the direction it wants to go. You need process to determine the direction to go and how to work together, you need task orientation to accomplish all the jobs needed.

Often the conflicts that arise from process and task chafing come from personality styles. There are a number of tests, such as Meyers-Briggs that measure how a person reacts to events and people. The sum total of these reactions are called your personality style. Personality style characterizes how you approach group work and can and usually does effect your attitudes about other people you work with.

The task oriented vs. the process oriented person

A task oriented person is a person who gets great pleasure in getting results. They create prioritized, bulleted to do lists and then check off items accomplished. They are often fact and results driven, and want the bottom line clearly defined. They often want details organized, and they tend to know exactly where things are. So conversely, they are uncomfortable with ambiguity and get annoyed by discussions that are not related to tasks at hand. They have little patience for digressions. In extreme cases, if you ask them how they feel about an issue, they will minimize it, and be annoyed by the fact that you asked them for their feelings not the facts.

A process oriented person is one who gets pleasure from working with people. They want to make people feel good about what is happening, and they see the world in terms of relationships. They tend to not be interested so much in facts as the consequences of the facts and may also be disorganized, easily losing

place of the current discussion thread. They may care more about getting out peoples feelings than worrying about details or results. They tend to be very comfortable with ambiguity and tend to get annoyed by bulleted prioritized task lists and serial sequencing. If you ask them for the facts, they tend to want to move into relationships and concepts instead and may become annoyed that you asked them for the facts rather than their feelings.

Now, both the descriptions above are huge oversimplifications of the enormously complex arena of personality types, but it illustrates the differences and sets up the idea that both styles look at group endeavors with very different perspectives. Both perspectives are equally valid. Let me repeat that: Both perspectives are equally valid.

The key element to understand is that neither the task nor process orientated person is right, they simply are differences in orientation to working in the group. Both styles (and all the others that exist) need to be recognized, celebrated and then worked with as the group dynamic unfolds. Ideally your group has a good mixture of styles, and although this can seem chaotic, it is actually a very good thing, much better than if you were all one style or another. Both task and process styles really do benefit the group as long as you learn what the other needs.

So let's look at a couple sample conflicts involving the two styles and how they can end up. The meeting agenda for xyz cohousing has several issues on it and the first issue is about a process issue. The discussion goes on and on about how people feel about a particular issue and Task Oriented Mary is getting



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