Enneagram Training Testimonial: A New Perspective on Conflict

By Shawn Fitzmaurice, University of Baltimore

As a personality typing system, the Enneagram has clearly stood the test of time, but Louise Phipps Senft has brought it fully into the 21st century by employing it as a powerful diagnostic tool in the practice of conflict resolution. In a recent training with Louise, I learned that the roots of conflict are self-absorption and confusion, which I can definitely identify with. Seeing a sample conflict scenario was eye-opening, I really identified with the workplace tensions presented. When I’m stressed, I shut down; I don’t let anyone in to help. I’ll just stubbornly grind away in futility.

Reflecting on the scenario, I began applying my new understanding of the Ennegram to the situation at hand, beginning to shift self-absorption to self-awareness, and confusion to clarity. With a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, I was able to take a step back, take a few breaths and make better decisions, namely asking for help. It’s amazing. For all the stubbornness with which I resist reaching out, I am incredibly relieved when I get help with a problem. That’s another great aspect of learning the Enneagram, I’ve begun to appreciate just how many different perspectives there are, and how useful another’s perspective can be. Louise Phipps Senft’s Enneagram training goes beyond just explaining the nine personality types, she also enumerates the tendencies to flow between types in moments of security or stress, our compatibility with other types, and more. Through these layers of intuitive complexity, the Enneagram allows us to better understand who we are, what we do out of habit, and how we can celebrate our own style while simultaneously developing the aspects of self we can each improve on. Greater self awareness leads to greater clarity, which facilitates better decision-making and, in cases of conflict, more fruitful compromises. The Enneagram allows us to more fully understand who we are and what we want by helping each of us to recognize our own biases in perspective, an essential skill for navigating conflict in our daily lives.

Baltimore Mediation’s Enneagram training concluded with some breathwork, a mindfulness practice that really helped me integrate and return to a serene place. Just as deep breaths help bring my mind and body into harmony, likewise I felt empowered to employ my understanding of the Enneagram to harmonize conflicted parties. In both instances, awareness is the tool that brings space in where only tension was before. When I breathe deeply, I calm down, and once I’ve calmed down, I remember the differences between each of the nine personalities–that my perspective is only one of many–and I ask for help. Thank you Louise, and thank you Baltimore Mediation.

Posted by Baltimore Mediation at 2:40 PM No comments:
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Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Family Dynamics with Elderly Parents and the Role of Mediation

By Ann Crowley, Associate Mediator – Baltimore Mediation

Having just walked through my husband’s father and stepfather’s final days this winter, it was interesting that Louise Phipps Senft asked me to join her for a speaking engagement entitled: Mediation in Eldercare. Sponsored by Harmony Senior Services on behalf of their newest independent and assisted living facility, The Crossings at University Park, the talk was attended by families, healthcare providers, eldercare advocates, attorneys and social workers.

Perhaps at no time is a family stretched more emotionally, physically and financially than around care for an elderly parent. The stakeholders are often adult children who have varying degrees of daily involvement and interest, and the parent or parents, who may or may not desire their children’s interference in their decision-making.

Every family desires to emerge from tough times stronger and more resilient but they often find the opposite occurs. A lifetime of hurts and misunderstandings often rise to the surface during a time of stress. These relational fractures can make even the easy decisions impossible. Do you focus on getting to an agreement? Louise suggested something else…..

“What I’m proposing is something other than satisfying needs and interests. I’m suggesting that you think about doing things a little bit radically. Focus instead on the crisis in the interaction. Look for certain characteristics or markers of people when they are in conflict. For example, is the person confused, afraid, disorganized, vulnerable, uncertain, feeling a lack of power. When you hear the ‘always’ and the ‘nevers’, these are markers that there is a crisis in the interaction. If you attend to the crisis you will have very different outcomes. We all experience weakness and self absorption when in conflict. For example, “the other person is selfish and only makes decisions that benefit him or her”. When you have weakness and self absorption which is the full conflict experience, what happens in your decision making is that the interaction itself gets a little negative. For example, not returning phone calls, slight sarcasm, little remarks here and there. It starts out a little negative, then becomes destructive, and finally alienation occurs. This is not who you are. You do not walk around always weak and self absorbed, but this is what conflict does to us. We need a process that honors that crisis in the interaction – before it gets too entrenched (not talking to each other for months at a time and not caring about the other at all). When in conflict, we as humans have the ability to become more responsive to self and others because we are stronger, able to speak more authentically, more honestly, not having to worry about how it will sound because it comes from a different place. I am better able to hear the other because I don’t have to defend myself. That’s conflict transformation. That’s what the mediation process provides to people who are very smart and capable, but when we’re in the midst of conflict….”

In the midst of a family struggle, it is generally a healthcare provider, social worker or family attorney that suggests that the siblings engage a mediator. Mediators that specialize in eldercare provide a neutral, confidential forum for all members of the family to express their views and concerns, to seek clarity and to consider possible outcomes. The interaction between family members is paramount to the mediation and many find the process healing and restorative to their family’s relationships. From her experience, Louise explains “we found that people wanted the most was to be respected, to speak about what was most important to them, they wanted the opportunity to be heard by the other person, and the chance to engage meaningfully even when they had different thoughts, expectations, points of view, or ideas about the conflict. People are incredibly capable of engaging in the midst of conflict as it unfolds. Instead of shutting it off or putting it aside, we can share this talent with whomever we come into contact with. Its all about the interaction.”

In my situation, the siblings were in agreement but each of the parents were in denial about the level of care they required and the constant risk in which they were putting them self and others. Fortunately, patience, time and skills learned through Baltimore Mediation’s training brought our family members to agreement and we were able to usher each through their last days with dignity. Our family emerged intact but not without considerable struggle.

For anyone struggling with eldercare issues, consider these suggestions from Louise as you engage with your family:

  • Be a mediator for your family by helping to remove barriers to improve the interaction.
  • Consider your and the others conflict style.
  • Intervene in your own conflicts by having two simple goals: clarity & responsiveness.
  • Listen in a way that doesn’t judge.
  • Reflect back what the other person said.
  • Invite the others input in an authentic and honest way.
  • Highlight the opportunity for decision making.
  • Go slow to go fast.
  • Speak up when you’re uncomfortable or unsure of something.
  • Discuss why you feel this way.
  • Consider that we become calmer when we are heard. When we’re calmer we can make better decisions.
  • Establish some guidelines for your family meetings.
  • If you’re interested in making decisions which are adhered to you need to create emotional meaning. What’s the emotional meaning or what’s the emotional benefit?
  • Lastly, do not force an agreement. Find out why there is disagreement.