Mormons and Conflict

With my limited experience and training in project management, I have been able to learn a few things about conflict resolution. This has been a significant benefit in helping me understand myself and others when it comes to conflict. One helpful source for sorting this out is the Thomas-Kilman survey which is a nice and easy way to analyze how an individual usually deals with conflict.

I was reviewing my results of this survey, and found myself wondering if this might explain how many Mormons behave during times of conflict. I realize that defining what is a typical Mormon is getting more difficult as time goes on. Perhaps it is impossible. I also realize that much of this will reveal my personal perceptions of what is considered stereotypical Mormon behavior. But I thought it might be fun and useful anyway.

I would first like to review how the good folks at Thomas-Kilman analyze behavior in times of conflict, and then discuss my results, and what typical Mormon behavior might be. If there even is such a thing.

Thomas-Kilman maps behavior on the first quadrant, or upper right portion, of an x-y graph. The x, or horizontal, axis is cooperativeness. The zero point on the graph represents a lack of cooperation, and the farther right you are on the axis, the more cooperative you tend to be. The y, or vertical, axis is assertiveness. The zero point on the graph represents a lack of assertiveness, and the farther up you are on the axis, the more assertive you tend to be. They then group areas into five categories:

Avoidance

Near the 0,0 point on the graph is avoidance. Avoidance is neither cooperative nor assertive. Most people would consider this bad behavior, but that is not necessarily true. Avoidance can be a good thing when the issue at hand is not worth the risk of conflict. It can also be a good thing when there is not enough information to base a good decision on.

Accommodating

On the lower right area is accommodating. Accommodating is cooperative but not assertive. It can be charitable and self-sacrificing. Peacemakers would fall in this category. It can also neglect opportunities when you could be a positive influence.

Compromising

Right in the middle is compromising. This is the spot for the negotiator. It is in the space in-between. It is partially cooperative and partially assertive. An area for give and take.

Competitive

The competitive individual will find themselves in the upper left area of the chart. Competitive people are assertive but not cooperative. It is a win-lose perspective. As with all areas, this is not necessarily good nor bad, but a way of dealing with conflict.

Collaborative

This area is in the upper right area of the chart. It is both cooperative and assertive. It is the win-win perspective. People pleasers are here. This is often a good way to be, but can take a lot of time and effort. People here will try and please everybody, including themselves. Sometimes this can bog a project down. There is also that thing about to many cooks.

I think it is helpful to think about this stuff, and I like the way they lay things out. For those of you who know me a little bit, you will probably not be surprised by my results. I was way off the charts to the low side in the competitive and compromising areas. I was way off the chart on the high side in the collaborative area. I was average in avoiding and accommodating.

My results indicate that I am very, very cooperative. Maybe to cooperative. They also indicate that I am ‘extreme’ on assertiveness (for lack of a better word). I either want things my way, or your way. But not a combination.

In many ways I consider myself to be a typical Mormon (you may disagree). I was born in the church, raised in Idaho, served a mission, went to Ricks College, married in the Temple, have four kids, am fairly conservative, yada, yada, yada. So I wonder if my results might be typical of Mormons in general.

I would expect that Mormons would be quite a cooperative group of people. We meet together often, have large families, meet in quorums, do home and visiting teaching, serve on committees and councils, etc. Mormons are often thought of as being ‘nice’. Maybe to ‘nice’. Perhaps cooperative is another way of being ‘nice’.

I also suspect that Mormons might also be ‘split’ or at the extremes of assertiveness. On the one hand Mormons are somewhat expected to do what their church leaders tell them to do, or submit to God in following the commandments. There is the idea of those who loose their life shall find it. All this might tend to put Mormons on the low end of the assertiveness scale. But then there is the fact that most Mormons will usually not compromise their principles either. And all that missionary work, and the ‘only true church’ stuff which speaks of assertiveness.

Anyway, I suspect there are a significant amount of Mormons out there who are a little bit like me when it comes to dealing with conflict. Which would mean people who are very cooperative, yet are not likely to compromise. Does this match what you observe?

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8 Responses to “Mormons and Conflict”


  1. 1 Geoff J March 9, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I think people pleasers fall under the accommodating category. Seeking win-win situations is not a people pleasing activity necessarily. In the end everyone ends up pleased but it takes more work to get there and that is not pleasing to people along the way.

  2. 2 Jacob J March 10, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Eric,

    I agree with you that Mormon culture asks us to vary our assertiveness greatly based on the context. If we are in disagreement with a leader (as you note) we are expected to dial back our assertiveness. If we perceive ourselves to be taking up an orthodox position against a heterdox one, we will crank up our assertiveness because we will feel we are in the right. (The “we” in the preceding represents my view of the mythical “standard” Mormon.)

    A long time back I mentioned that I enjoy my corporate culture in which we have as a value “constructive confrontation.” You said at that time you were very non-confrontational. I am not sure if that is refuted by your “extreme assertivenss” mentioned in the post.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson March 10, 2008 at 5:10 am

    Geoff:

    I believe you are right. I would say people pleasers would either be in the accommodating or the colloborating camp depending on how assertive they are.

    Jacob:

    I am very non-confrontational. My term ‘extreme assertiveness’ was an awkward way of saying that I am not very assertive unless my core principles are at stake.

  4. 4 Jacob J March 10, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Ah, that makes more sense. When I first read it I didn’t understand your sentence about wanting either your way or my way but not both.

  5. 5 Stephen M (Ethesis) March 10, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Actually, I think it is a person by person thing, rather than Mormons as a cultural group.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson March 10, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    You are probably right Stephen. But don’t you think there would be some general tendencies? I don’t have any data, just thinking about it is all.

  7. 7 Kim Siever April 9, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I’ve only recently been cooperative.

    When I was called as elders quorum president the first time (I was only 22), I did everything myself. I’ve since had experiences that have allowed me to be more cooperative this time around. I’m still assertive when it comes to my calling, but from time to time, I find myself biting my tongue when assignments I made aren’t filled as I expected (or at all) by those whom I assigned.

    Then again, other than being an RM and having married in the temple, I’m none of the things you said make you a typical Mormon. 🙂

  8. 8 Eric Nielson April 10, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Thanks Kim.

    Those are probably the most important things.


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