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Don't avoid this...
on November 7, 2003
Speed Leas' book on conflict management is used in many settings, but is perhaps best known in seminary and church contexts. It is used at my seminary as part of the basic ministry class, to enable students to learn about their own conflict management styles directly before assuming a role in churches or classrooms where they will have to be the ones managing other conflicts (which may or may not involve them directly).
There is a 45-question inventory of couplet questions that the reader is asked to complete prior to reading the short, 40-page text. (From a design standpoint, one might ask why this is in the back of the book, rather than the first thing presented.) This will give clues based on the six styles of conflict management where the reader falls within the categories. It is not a rigid classification system -- my own completion showed an equal high score in three of the six categories, and a tie for second place for two others.
The six categories are Persuasion, Compulsion, Avoidance/Accommodation, Collaboration, Negotiation, and Support. Most people will recognise that their own conflict management styles are a combination of these types, which get defined carefully and described in some detail despite the low number of pages in the text. Most people will however tend toward a few types of conflict management -- Leas gives clues as to how one can improve, both within and outside of the category. Leas shows the benefits of each style and the drawbacks of each style.
Effective use of this tool requires honesty on the part of the reader. One can decide to be a collaborator or a supporter, but one should honestly answer the questions and recognise the starting point. One person I know who took the test answered as he believed the seminary class wanted him to answer, and chose which group he thought would be best to join. This, of course, belies the intention of this teaching tool, but the incident did demonstrate clearly his real categorisation (that of compulsion).
As is pointed out in the text, the best time to use this tool for learning about conflict management is not in the midst of a conflict, but rather before such conflicts happen. Learning from this text, the reader will learn to manage people's conflicts more wisely, first by understanding one's own style, but also from gaining insights into the behaviours of others. Leading all to a more satisfactory conclusion is a desirable outcome in any organisation, secular or ecclesiastical.
Speed Leas is an educator and consultant experienced over many decades of teaching and working with church and other organisations. Sponsored in this project by the Alban Institute, Leas has produced an ideal tool for use with leadership groups, church groups, academic groups, boards, and any other group or community (which is, in fact, all of them) where people might disagree and where conflict might arise. It is short (which is good for those with busy schedules, who find it difficult to find the time for reading), it is to-the-point and direct in its language (not bogging down in theory or speculation too much), and it is practical.