A great tool to help people think about their own personal styles related to conflict is Conflict Animals. Have people think about a particular conflict that has been a challenge to them (they won’t have to share with anyone, so they can be honest to maximize their personal learning!). Based on how the acted and felt in the conflict invite them to form a group with others around the animal that best captures their personal style in the conflict:
Turtle–Tends to pull into to protect oneself and minimize hurt. Watching what is happening, but keeping that shell between the conflict and one’s vulnerable parts.
Koala–Wishes we could all get along and love one another. Willing to give up what one desires for the sake of maintaining the relationship with the other.
Rhino–Knows what is right and what needs to be done and will press ahead in that knowledge. If someone gets their foot stepped on, their foot shouldn’t have been there. Willing to take leadership and step forth strongly.
Fox–Looking for the deal that will work things out. Wants to get the most possible out of this but knows sometimes you have to give up some things to get what you want.
Dolphin–Tries to bring all the stakeholders together and work on something that will be workable for everyone. How can we maximize what we can all get out of this situation?
Once people have formed the groups around the animals (some may be reluctant to pick one–ask them to go toward whichever style they may be leaning toward just a bit more than the other, or go to the part of themselves they’d like to learn more about) give the four questions to answer on flip chart paper:
What are your animal style’s strengths or positives in relation to conflict?
What are the weaknesses, limitations, or problems that your animal style might cause in a conflict situation?
Which of the other four animal styles is your best friend or ally, and why?
Which of the other four animal styles gives you the most difficulty, and why?
After the groups finish, invite them to share in any order. Applaud them for their honesty and post each of the sheets.
Make a graph on the floor with tape. The horizontal line is concern about relationships. The vertical line is concern about the issue or problem. Invite the group to plot each animal on the graph. There may be some disagreement, but generally we put the turtle as low on both, the koala as high on relationship & low on issue, the rhino as high on issue & low on relationship, the fox in the middle, and the dolphin as high on both.
There are technical terms for these conflict styles. (Click file of Ways of Responding to Conflict .) The Turtle avoids. The Koala accommodates. The Rhino is forceful and an advocate (actually I prefer to use the term “assertive”–a good description without negative assumptions). The Fox seeks compromise. The Dolphin is collaborative.
In Christian contexts the facilitator can ask if Jesus was ever in any of these animal styles in conflict. Elicit stories for each one. Click to download Jesus and Conflict Styles for a list of some stories related to each animal style. If we say Jesus was without sin and acted in each of these conflict styles at some point, then there can be a right way and right time for each of them. Our challenge is to become mindful of what is going on in ourselves and in the conflict so as to act from the positives and strengths of any style we use rather than fall into the negative expressions of that style.
A Note about the Animals: Some cultures have certain views about animals, such as a fox being viewed very negatively. Others may not know about a particular animal, such as a land-locked country not knowing about dolphins, or people not knowing what a koala is (and Australians might know how nasty a koala is contrary to the rest of the world seeing them as cuddly critters!). Making a good description of the personal conflict style tied to the animal type is important.
In one workshop I did in Thailand when we got to the dolphin collaborative style, the participants all said, “That’s the elephant!” So we decided to substitute elephants for dolphins (see the photo above). In Hong Kong participants suggested the panda instead of the koala. So go with what works in any given culture.
For props, I have gathered carved, stuffed, or plastic animals to use in the training. You can also find some great photos in Google Images that you can print for use with this tool. It helps groups to have something tangible to work with as well as to place on the graph.