June 18, 2023
Tania Burgess

We all have needs and wants, and I’m sure you’ve experienced a clash or two when they’re not met. Whilst some spiritual traditions teach that abstinence or “letting go of needs and wants" is the way to manage conflict, we recognise that getting our needs met is a natural part of being a fully functioning, happy, healthy human being.  There are 3 ways people cope when things don’t going their way, and in this blog, I’m going to explore the 3 conflict types, so you're better equipped for the next inevitable encounter. Whichever type you are, I’ll explain how the conflict styles apply to the personality types of the enneagram I'll also give you the tip on how you can manage your conflicts differently, moving towards healthy communication and resolution, rather than suffering on the battle ground.

The conflict styles explained…

  • The Reactive style doesn’t necessarily express itself aggressively, but it's passionate and sometimes intense, provoking strong responses from others.
  • The Competent style is a methodical approach that places personal feelings aside, focusing on the facts of the situation in an effective and efficient way.
  • The Positive Outlook style is also known as the avoidant or escapist style, and attempts to disengage, taking a positive approach so things can quickly move on without dwelling on the issues at hand.

So what does this mean for you and the people with who you share your life? And how might this new intel affect the way you go about trying to get your needs met by others (and visa versa)?  Let’s take a look at the motivation behind each type’s expression, and cast some light on their blindspots.

Reactive style

Reactive Style

  • Their Motivation is to be real, authentically expressing their emotions. By increasing tension, they provoke debate and awareness around the intensity of the emotions they are experiencing in relation to the issue.
  • Expressed as emotional hurt, anxiety, anger, confrontation.
  • Blindspot - They may struggle to adopt a more structured and positive approach to resolving conflict.

Each Enneagram type responds to challenges in different ways, but this highly visible conflict style is common for: 

E4’s - Intense Creatives, who react dramatically in an attempt to be seen and understood

E6’s - Loyal Sceptics, who react defensively, being pessimistic and doubtful, in an attempt to avoid being taken advantage of and to remain independent.

E8’s - Active controllers reacts confrontationally in an attempt to avoid feeling hurt or vulnerable, retaining independence, self reliance and a strong sense of being.

Competent style

Competency Style

  • Their motivation is to be able to zoom out and assess the big picture surrounding the  problem, and to use their knowledge, skills & understanding to rationally solve the problem.
  • Expressed as unemotional, corrective, efficient & logical.
  • Blindspot - Relying heavily on logic and rationale, they expect others to do the same, often struggling to acknowledge feelings and emotions involved, especially for  reactive types.

Each Enneagram type responds differently to challenges, but this cool conflict style is common for: 

E1’s - Strict perfectionists/Reformers who express their competency by doing it right, emphasising what’s correct and sensible, repressing feelings in order to do what’s logical. 

E3’s - Competitive Achiever expresses competency through dealing with conflicts efficiently, wanting to work within the system, but bending the rules and cutting corners to be seen as capable.

E5’s - The Quiet Specialist expresses their competency through resolving conflict intelligently, emphasising their expertise and information, but remaining detached and withdrawn.

Positive outlook style

Positive Style

  • Their motivation is to be able to rationalise or reframe the problem so it loses its intensity. They apply their positive outlook to deny negative experiences, stress and problems, instead focusing on what’s possible, and seeking innovative solutions.
  • Expressed as focusing on others, through their optimistic and no-worries attitude.
  • Blindspot - Their positivity may be seen as superficial and can lead to escapism. By not acknowledging and dealing with real problems, they may worsen the problem by not addressing it sooner rather than later.

Each Enneagram type responds to challenges differently, but this optimistic conflict style is common for: 

E2’s - The Considerate Helper expresses their optimism through looking for the good in others, emphasising their positive qualities and repressing negative thoughts and feelings.

E7’s - The Enthusiastic Visionary express their optimism through looking for the sliver lining, emphasising the positives, enjoyment and excitements, avoiding connection with their internal pain.

E9’s - The Peacemaker expresses their optimism by looking for harmony, emphasising positive qualities, going along with the majority to get along with everyone, but turning a blind eye to the actual problems and conflict.

You may recognise yourself and others in a few of the enneagram types when dealing with conflict.  Regardless of your type, my goal here is help you approach conflict differently if your current default isn’t working. And no, I’m not about to say “sit, meditate and chant Om", although that could be useful for those with the reactive style!  So, here’s the gold…

How to resolve conflict peacefully for everyone:

Reactive Style develops by...

Recognising the intensity of your/their emotions in the moment will allow you to hit pause.  Feeling your emotions and labelling, “I feel hurt, I feel angry, I feel abandoned, I feel…" and letting them move through you. (You can learn how to do this in Find Your Zen)  You may need to take some time to let the intensity of feeling those emotions settle before you re-engage with your sparring partner. But when you are ready, by leaning into the strengths of the competency style approach, you will be able to redirect your focus to resolution and away from expression. By connecting to strengths of the positive outlook you will be able to explore the possibilities of finding innovative solutions.

Competency Style develops by...

Recognising how you/they are drawn to working out the rational solution, this type will benefit by dropping your/their awareness down into your/their body and connecting with the emotions that are being experienced here - disappointment, frustration, anger, anxiety, fear, doubt, confusion. Connecting to the emotions being experienced by others in the situation will balance the cerebral approach, shifting from cool and unemotional to warm and empathetic.  If you are dealing with a reactive style, use phrases like, “I can see how upsetting this is for you” acknowledging the emotion they are wishing to express, so it can be felt, heard, only then can you move into rational problem solving. If you are dealing with a Positive Style, recognise that they are trying to avoid difficult feelings, so gently inviting them into collaboration so they can engage in the exploration of possibilities.

Positive Style develops by...

Maintaining enthusiasm and positivity, but instead of sweeping issues under the carpet, adopt the strengths of all the conflict styles. Courageously draw on the competency style by looking at the facts, without reframing or denying them.  Adopt a systematic approach to logically address the real issues. This includes recognising the emotions present,  and verbally acknowledging them, especially if you are dealing with reactive types who needs the expression of their emotions to be recognised.

Conflict isn’t easy, but it’s a natural part of life as we strive to meet each other’s needs with respect, support and kindness.  If you are in a relationship where you feel unsafe, threatened or abused, please seek assistance as soon as possible.  Regardless of conflict style, abuse of any kind, be it verbal, emotional, physical or financial is not OK.  

If you are in immediate danger, please contact 000

Talk to someone anytime at Relationships Australia 1300 364 277

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