Conflict Resolution 5: Don’t Bother

HPIM1977.JPGI touched on this a little in the previous 4 articles on Conflict Resolution and the rest of the leadership series. However, it’s worth stating more explicitly. Sometimes, it’s not worth bending over backwards to try and sheepdog people into a conflict resolution. Sometimes, people are just going to keep causing drama.

In fact, the very drama of trying to get them into a mediated session is the drama that they want. Usually these are the egomaniacs and unstable mentally ill people I’ve mentioned before. Typically they have no idea that they are literally bending situations to create even more drama.

Some people crave attention. Going back to the underlying needs addressed in Part 2, their need is for attention, to be seen and valued. However, they aren’t getting that need met, in part because their attempts to get that need met typically involve them being whiny, annoying, irritating, or belligerent.

Here’s a couple of quick examples of “Do not pass go,” followed by a longer profile of behaviors to watch out for.

Stuck In Mythic
So once upon a time, Person A was convinced that Person B hated him. “She came into the room, and when she saw me, she left.” I asked if he’d ever talked to Person B about it. “No, of course not. She hates me.” Despite several hours of working through the Four Levels of Reality tool to get him to Physical Reality, he could not separate his mythic reality. “I just know she hates me.” He wasn’t open to me talking to Person B to find out, he wasn’t open to a mediation session, he was just convinced that Person B hated him. And in fact, suspected that many other people hated him.

In this instance, despite a lot of effort to work with Person A, who was motivated to help and be part of the group, it turned out that Person A had a number of issues. He was diagnosed Bipolar and not in any treatment, he had been abusing his partner (spitting on her, choking her, verbally and emotionally abusing her), and he had been repeatedly hitting on women in the group, or staring at their chests. I also discovered that he’d been kicked out of two previous groups for being belligerent and he had problems with female authority figures.

As I’ve said before, I always want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but, I also have to be realistic. With treatment for his Bipolar and a few years of therapy, he could be a functioning member of a group, but he’s way past my pay grade. The primary red flag in this situation that led to me understanding all the rest was that you couldn’t talk this guy down off a wall. Once Person A was convinced of his Mythic Reality, no amount of Physical Reality would sway him. If you spend several hours talking to someone and they just can’t wrap their brain around the idea that their version of The Truth isn’t set in stone, that’s a big red flag.

Stuck in Mythic plus Antisocial Personality Disorders
Person A was convinced that Person B was out to get him–same scenario as above. He’d dealt with her before in a previous group and she had betrayed him and others. After spending several hours with Person A trying to get him to articulate what Person B had done in terms of Physical Reality (ie, taking him through the Four Levels of reality and out of Mythic and Emotional space and into Physical Reality) he literally could not articulate what Person B had done. “If Person B is there, bad things happen. Person B will betray people. Person B is a sociopath.”

Now–here’s the rub on this one.

Person A is going to consistently cause group conflicts because they literally cannot get out of their own Mythic Reality. They are stuck in their own story of other people’s motivation. However–in this particular instance–Person B really was a sociopath. You might begin to see why conflict resolution is so difficult. Often times, both parties enmeshed in a conflict are escalating things and making it worse.

In this particular example. Person B had done such a number on me by playing the victim that I allowed her into leadership positions in my group, ultimately giving her the leverage she needed to help build a coalition against me. There were other factors, including my former partner, but this led to the complete implosion of that particular group. If I’d understood the red flags for the Antisocial personality disorders and Person B’s behavior, she’d never have gained a foothold in the group.

Rule of thumb: If someone can’t articulate things in terms of Physical Reality, despite four hours (yes, four hours) of discussion on the matter, this is probably someone who is going to continue causing conflicts because of their paranoia and being stuck in mythic reality.

However, here’s a caveat. Sometimes the inability of Person A to put their finger on what Person B did may actually be a flag for Person B having one of the major personality disorders, like Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder, or being a sociopath. All of those fall into the “Antisocial personality disorders” and you will never regret learning more about those. Once you know some of the flags for them, it can help you keep your group healthier.

If you have someone in your group who has one of the antisocial personality disorders, it may be extremely difficult for other group members to put their finger on exactly what is wrong, what that person did. This is in part because people with any of the major antisocial personality disorders are extremely good at manipulation. They twist people around and if you aren’t familiar with the red flags, you’ll get caught up in it. Heck, even when I do know the red flags, it’s still hard to unravel the knots on what’s happening.

Personality Profile: Problematic Group Member
Below is an extended example of red flags of a problematic individual that many of you may recognize in your own groups. Starhawk would call them the “Power Under” person. This is the person that is repeatedly causing group conflicts. I’m not going to say there is no help for this person, however, the likelihood of any conflict resolution is pretty limited. If someone is on the extreme end of these red flags, I might skip the attempt to do conflict resolution entirely and just skip to the end game and kick them out of my group.

That’s harsh, and it’s something I would only do in extreme situations, but sometimes, the game of the problem-causer is to create further drama by drawing you into a process of conflict resolution. Sometimes, the only way out is to hold a boundary and say “No” and end the cycle of drama.

Some folks I know in a semi-rural area are working to create a coalition of local groups. Sort of a unity council. They all live about 2-3 hours apart, but they’ve seen how hard it is to run events and try to attract people to come to rituals and put things on when there are just so few Pagans in any one area. However, if they band together and go to Town A for one sabbat, Town B, for another, and Town C for the next…you get the picture. They can share resources, not have to run all the rituals themselves, get helpers…it’s a good idea.

Of course, you can also see the challenges organizing over that big of a distance. One of the group members early on started whining a lot. She’d complain on the group page. She didn’t like the logo that one member had designed. She frequently complained that even when this coalition met closer to her side of the state, she still had to drive 45 minutes and she couldn’t afford it. She frequently complained that people weren’t listening to her ideas.

The person who is in the role of the organizer of this merry band has spent hours and hours and hours talking to the group member with the problems. In fact, I spent several hours talking to that group member on the main organizer’s behalf, since I know all the parties involved.

When the group opted to meet at the central town’s location, which was even further from the complainer’s location, the group member (unsurprisingly) complained about that, and how they always had to drive. The main organizer pointed out that people from her town had been doing most of the driving so far, and it was only fair to bring things central. Further, they were still trying to get people involved who were even further away, and that would require driving to that side of the state at times.

Some of you will be unsurprised that ultimately, the complainer left the group in a huff.

Cutting the Cancer
Now, I knew this would happen long before it did. In fact, the group organizer and I spent a fair amount of time discussing how to handle this particular complainer. She, and many other group organizers facing someone like this, want to hear how they can help that person become involved without them being a major pain in the ass. This person meant well! She volunteered for things, she wanted to see better resources for her community.

However, she also was completely the source of her own problems. She was causing the very things that were distancing her from the group, and making her feel less and less heard, making her act out more. Again, it goes back to those needs, and ultimately, to our issues, particularly around self esteem. It’s a vicious cycle.

What I’ve told to many organizers dealing with someone like this is, you’re going to have to kick them out of the group sooner, rather than later, if their behaviors are that disruptive and they are not receptive to any feedback. In this particular case, the small group of leaders was new, and having to kick someone out could have devastated their momentum. When a group is new and unsure, dealing with a major group dynamics issue can be the kiss of death. People get too angry and frustrated and bail after a big conflict.

Delay the Inevitable
You can delay how long it takes for someone like this to throw a big fit by focusing attention on them, praising them frequently, and bending over backwards to give them important-sounding tasks that they enjoy and then praising them for doing that work. And–for that matter–though I might sound dismissive when I say that, as a leader, that’s sometimes the work I have to do with group members who are not that disruptive. Some people have poor self esteem and need a little bit of extra handholding. Some group members can work their way out of the whiny power-under place.

But that’s not the type of person I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the person that no attempts at skillful leadership on your part will help. In my own leadership hubris, I’ve worked with folks like this and though, “But I know all this stuff about leadership. I can ‘fix’ them, I can help them see how they are the source of their own problems.”

With some folks who just have poor self esteem and need to build some confidence, you can. For someone who has way more red flags and is more disruptive, you can’t. It’s above your pay grade, and the sooner you recognize that, the less time you’ll invest into someone who can cause a major blow up in your group.

However–with someone like this, the longer they are in the group, the more likely they are to build a coalition against the primary leader, or anyone whom they perceive as a threat. I liken it to a cancer. You can cut off a finger, or you can cut off a hand, or you can lose a whole limb. When you kick someone out of a group it’s always disruptive and painful, but if you do it sooner rather than later, it’s less disruptive.

Red Flags
Of course–this means you have to understand the differences between someone who can change their behavior, and someone who is way above your pay grade. Ie, someone who is not going to change. I’m not going to tell you this is easy. And as I’ve said so often before–good grief do I wish that I had more capacity to help the people who are acting out in this way. Because, I believe that many of them can be helped with time, patience, pastoral counseling, therapy, and love. And if our group leaders had better training, and infinite time and infinite resources, we could help some of these folks.

But sometimes, my job is to create a stable group so that in 5, 10, 20 years, that group does have the resources and the training to help people like this. A group that is strong and sustainable can actually handle someone more problematic. A newer group with leaders without a lot of training doesn’t have a chance.

Description of the red flags for this particular group member/type got long enough that that will be Part 6.

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