I’m sure you know the type of person who, at a job interview, says their only flaw is ‘perfectionism’. It’s not that far off really. Our worst traits are always an overdose of our best qualities.
Daniel Ofman, a Dutch engineer, was the first author to describe this. And judging from my own conflicts and the conflicts I mediate I can say it’s a fact: we reproach others a kind of behaviour the other person would qualify as a quality. When put under pressure your strong point becomes your pitfall.
More than 20 years ago D. Ofman developed a quadrant to help indivuals assess their core quality and its distortions. Distortion being the result of an overdeveloped core quality.
This is how you apply it:
In the first square you write down the quality or potential that defines you as a person in every situation. So if you are precise while at work but a chaotic freewheeler outside of work precision is not your defining quality, it is merely a skill (nurture versus nature). Think instead of what you can not turn off, a potential that drives you. That is your core quality.
The second square, your pitfall, is an excess of your core quality and describes the way you behave in stressful situations. Think of what people tell you in these situations: ‘Don’t be such a..’. or ‘Don’t be so..’.
The third square is your challenge, something you don’t have a lot of. Let’s say you are very ‘energetic’ (= core quality), which leads to ‘chaos’ (= pitfall) in stressful situations, then ‘structure’ or ‘focus’ could be your challenge. Adding focus to a lot of energy creates the perfect balance to make you florish. So balancing is not about being less energetic, but only about adding structure to that energy.
Last but not least is the aspect I see all the time while mediating conflicts: allergies. It is what I call a red button. A behaviour or tendency in other people that drives you mad. When being confronted with it you can no longer deal with that person. This is your allergy.
Using the quadrant to analyse conflicts
The quadrant is particulary helpful to analyse conflicts. The beauty of it is that the different squares are complementary. As soon as you define one of the quarters you can deduce the other quarters. If you feel that someone is pushing your buttons take a closer look. Applying your allergy to the quadrant gives insight in your defining quality, your pitfall ànd your challenge.
In a crisis people are trapped in their pitfall: a core quality has become an excess. It is usually the display of your allergy by someone in your surroundings that pushes you in to your pitfall.
And there’s more: Ofman discovered that people are allergic to individuals who display an overdose of their own challenge. Say you are allergic to lethargic people: your challenge in life will be ‘to let go and lean back’ a bit more often.
Taking the example used earlier: you are ‘energetic’ and your challenge is ‘focus’, then you will get really annoyed by overly structured people (controlfreaks in your language). As an effect of your allergy you will display your pitfall, in this case ‘chaos’. Result: ‘chaos’ versus ‘control’. An effective collaboration is no longer possible and you will start avoiding the controlfreak.
The quadrant offers insight in the reason why people can no longer interact but it also explains why these two interacted in the first place: we are always looking for complementary qualities.
But then, how to resolve conflicts?
Analysing conflicts by letting conflicting parties fill in their quadrant offers them self-insight: a clear mental picture of their core quality, pitfall and allergy. The self-knowledge helps them become more effective. One of the ways to become more effective is by adding what they don’t have much to their core quality.
At the same time the quadrant is a good tool to normalise and de-escalate crisis situations. It will allow the parties to agree what the problem is exactly and where it comes from, which is an essential aspect of solving a conflict.
Also, filling in the quadrant on behalf of the person you have a dispute with can offer understanding. An understanding of the incompatibility is essential because it helps you realise that you are allergic to a particular behaviour, which relates more to your core quality than to the other person. And just as important: you’ll gain insight in the underlying special quality of annoying behaviour. Someone who is ‘insistent’ and ‘oppressive’ is also at core a ‘decisive’ person, which is a quality and might have been the ground of which you started collaborating.
So it all adds up to self-insight of your behaviour and understanding of the behaviour of the person you are in conflict with. Both factors de-escalate conflicts to a level on which they can be resolved. The end result is that you can balance your core quality again and be stressfree.