By Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz
This past weekend was a long anticipated gathering at a beach house with five of my sisters, my sister-in-law and my mother. We didn’t really care about the weather but it turned out to be one that showed us the beauty of both the calm and the storm. We watched as Rehoboth Bay turned into an uncharacteristic frenzy of wild waves that careened into the retaining wall, splashing sea water up onto the dock and walkway of the beach house where we were staying. We kept our eye on the weather channel to monitor the tornado watches on the east coast but mostly we were in awe of the storm as we sat in front of the wall of glass looking out onto the water about 50 feet away. As darkness came we left our card game and turned off the lights so we could watch the lightning streak across the sky and water. We thought it was wild and beautiful.
The next morning we awoke to sunny blue skies and a calm, peaceful body of water in front of us. We remarked that it was difficult to imagine this same body of water was what we had watched the night before. Today it was comforting and inviting…providing a space to sit on the dock and meditate as the sun glistened off the velvety smooth surface.
Talking about the water during the “calm” and the “storm” reminded me of the way I talk about conflict in different settings in my MCC work. It’s important for each of us to know that there are different styles of conflict and that while we may have a “preferred” style we often respond differently depending on how we feel about the issue presenting itself, how important the issue is to us as well as how significant the relationship with the other person(s) is to us. So we use language of the calm and the storm.
The calm obviously describes how we respond when we first experience a conflict that hasn’t escalated beyond what we might consider a disagreement. The storm responses indicate how we may respond when things are very tense and our emotions are much stronger than at the earlier stage of the disagreement. It may also depend on how engaged we are in the issue presented or how invested we are in the relationship with the other person. The higher the scores in any given style (which includes compromising, avoiding, forcing, accommodating and collaborating), the more likely you are to use this style when responding to conflict.
Knowing how you respond to conflict helps all of us make conscious choices about how we respond in certain situations and to have an understanding of how and why others may be responding to us (or to situations of conflict). The more we understand about ourselves and others the greater chance we have of working through conflict in helpful, healthy ways.
We make certain assumptions about someone if we only see them in situations of conflict where they are responding with a “storm” response rather than a “calm” response. The reality is that we need to keep in mind that they are one and the same person…just as we are in our different responses. Understanding those differences will hopefully help us to respond rather than react in any situation we also find ourselves.