This is one of series of blogs that are a retrospective reflection on Integral City Community of Practice’s experience in taking the In This Together (ITT) course on basic facilitation skills taught by Diane Musho Hamilton and Ten Directions.

In the sixth module of the course we gathered our learnings from transmuting emotions, embracing questions, recognizing points of view at the table and listening well to enter the “refiner’s fire” of conflict.

Refiners Fire of Conflict

Refiners Fire of Conflict

Conflict is an uncomfortable place for many and a condition devoutly to be avoided by others. It feels like the zone of being right and wrong. It entails confrontation and triggers negative emotions of fear, anger, worry and even hatred. The nightly news is filled with stories of conflict on every level – personal, professional, families, communities, cities and nations. From small disagreements to outright war, conflict seems to surround us.

Diane asked us to share our habitual style of engaging conflict. She asked us to consider how our patterns reflected the reptilian brain’s three basic responses to conflict: fight, flight or freeze? Were we Aggressors on the attack, Avoiders who want to hide, or Accommodators who wish to appease?

Once we recognized habitual responses, we were able to consider Diane’s proposition that conflict offers an opportunity to pivot from our point of view. Conflict can reveal differences that can make a difference that expand our perspectives on issues, allow us to see others in a new light and surface underlying wants and needs behind everyone’s positions. Conflict often allows us to re-frame right and wrong into larger contexts that offer alternative actions and outcomes.

She also reminded us that clearing our emotions as we had practised in the last class, enabled us to be present with the conflict.

What was the ITT homework?

Our homework asked us to notice, if we find ourselves in conflict this week, rather than defaulting to our habitual style (Aggressor, Avoider, Accommodator) to try practicing these steps:

  1. Stay present in the conflict, don’t avoid it.
  2. Work with the emotions first. Include, name, and validate them.
  3. Ask what is right about this conflict?
  4. Identify the specific issues – (What exactly are we fighting about)?
  5. Surface the underlying wants and needs of your positions.
  6. Compromise. (Or keep fighting…)
  7. Reflect on this practice, how well it went, and what you noticed


1. What did we experience in accomplishing the homework related to leveraging conflict through shared intention?

Our conversation started with recounting a conflict aired in a public meeting, where one practitioner noticed the emotions she experienced included humiliation, anger, despising others and resentment. It was not easy to name what was right about the conflict because it contained so much apparent disrespect, fear-mongering and FEAR (false evidence appearing real). But one proposition was that the conflict offered an opportunity for the multiple parties to express their differences. The situation was so volatile that the pattern for her initial participation in the conflict was intentional Avoidance to prevent inflaming the circumstances further. But subsequently the practitioner chose to use a systemic constellation work (SCW) process to discover what work she needed to do on herself, because she could not see how to change others – or that they would be willing to change. The dilemma she discovered at the core of the conflict was the tendency for the group to criticize what was best in her (and others) and turn it against her (and them). As it turned out, the SCW facilitator helped the participant to realize this was an old family memory statement of her own that she needed to release is to get clear on the real issues involved in the conflict. Returning this memory to her ancestors, helped the facilitator to be freed from the negative emotions embroiling the conflict and gave her more options to move forward.

In doing the work with systems constellation, another participant remarked on the possibility that in conflict we can perpetuate the cycle or circle of roles that include: Victim, Tyrant, Rebel, Rescuer, Survivor and Witness. It can be helpful to recognize which role we are playing in addition to our habitual style pattern in conflict situations. We can often be surprised to find we are playing several, if not all the roles. The recognition of our patterns and our roles can often ground us and allow us to engage with people in a conflict situation more willingly.

This observation reminded us how the class with transmuting feelings and emotions invited us to find the location of the feeling in our body. When we can not only name the emotions, but notice their embodiment, that practise can also release tension in our bodies and open our hearts to greater compassion for others and the situation.

Another participant shared a story of inner conflict. She had decided to let go a particularly valued studio space and she felt the artist in her resisting. She noticed she was grumpy, anxious and mistrustful that this was the right step (although her logical self believed it was).

Beyond the experience of public and personal conflict, one practitioner noticed the number of conflicts he simply witnessed on a visit to New York City. He asked himself, “Do I get involved?” On a deeper level, he realized that maybe there was something right about the conflict and he didn’t have an answer.

Another participant made the connection that in conflict it is difficult for her to avoid the sense of being the victim. Especially, when people in her direct surroundings assume her intentions without confirming them with her. Then she notices she is triggered into the response, “It is not fair.” When she has more space to consider the situation she can then inquire whether she is exaggerating and where there might be some truth in others’ assumptions about her.

We all agreed that when to say something about a conflict situation or when to stay quiet, is often a critical decision to how we choose to take care of ourselves. This can be influenced not only by our preconditioning (i.e. experience with surviving conflict when we are younger) and our preferred style, but our health and our sense of feeling strong enough to engage with those in the conflict.

Furthermore, we aligned with Diane’s observation that the most difficult place to practice these skills is in the family, with people you know best and who know you well. Ironically it seems easier to practise with people who are more distant than family members or close neighbours. It seems that the closer we are to people, the more difficult it is to surface shared intentions and find the leverage point for shifting the roots of conflict.

Being curious instead of resistant is a practice that can open us up to resolve conflict. This goes back to the practice of skilful questioning. We can also assist our inquiry by using practices that bypass our judging self – like left-hand writing or systemic constellation work.


2. So What does the topic/homework about leveraging conflict through shared intention have to do with Integral City practice or training?

Our group observed that leveraging conflict through shared intention becomes a revolutionary act that can change perspectives and the aspect of the situation.

When we seek to find what is right about a conflict we may be opening up to the evolutionary impulse that is expressing itself through the conflict. This proposition challenged us to ask how could conflict benefit the city?

Our earlier observations about noticing change states in the city (calm, turbulent, tornado, blue-skies-above and new calm), reminded us that people who are experiencing turbulence or violent storm warnings may know something that those who are in other change states may not be aware of. It is wise and valuable to be curious about what people who see things differently from me, know that I don’t know.

In Organization Development facilitation, appropriate support may be active and produce new learning, or it may be passive and thus allow the system to fall apart. Another approach in a system not completely closed to change is to help people rediscover the best qualities of itself and its intentions. By taking this strategic approach to leveraging conflict, it may be possible for the facilitator to save their own energy. (You might even avoid the sore nose you keep getting by bumping into the same wall all the time, by learning the different stages of change.) Although it is difficult to learn to do nothing, and simply witness the situation apparently falling apart, it may be necessary to do this, to create the conditions for the emergence of later stages, and eventually even the emergence of a new status quo.

Integral City practitioners can be of service not only as witnesses to conflict but also as holders of space where it is safe for people to express their differences – even to express anger. Holding safe space can be the function that allows information and intentions to be distilled from the tumult and turbulence.

In these days where anger is openly expressed in cultures (like the Netherlands) who feel threatened by immigrants and new ways, creating spaces for the expression of conflict is very different than the “Green” (tolerant, appeasing) approaches that try to subdue conflict or pretend it is not there.

Thus, practitioners need to prepare themselves to step into such “refiners fires”.

We recognized that as populist views are gaining traction in many nations (UK, USA, France, EU) those views are being expressed with greatest violence in cities. For many of us it seems a regressive step in our desire for evolution to more inclusive and compassionate values systems.

However, we can prepare ourselves better and help others more, if we remember that in living systems it is natural to (re)gather the energy before the system leaps forward. It does this, by first falling back to a lower stage of complexity – like a cat crouching down before it pounces forward and upward.

Reframing this natural pattern of apparent regression in the face of conflict into an appreciation of how energy can be collected and refocused offers a definite service to leveraging conflict for shared intention. The trick is to discover (or remember) the shared intention and not take our eyes off the shared intention. In the Integral City that practice is supported by many intelligences: Integral, Individual, Collective, Navigating and Evolution. The practise of the facilitator to enable this includes all these but also taps into Inquiry to access curiosity instead of getting stuck in conflict; Meshworking to align intentions of the multiple stakeholders; and Navigating to arrive at the shared intention.

With that review, we considered the unsettling? possibility that maybe the Universe likes conflict or wants to dance with it? Conflict may be the natural result of the iterative cycle of differentiation and convergence as we learn, develop and evolve. It may be the natural pattern of the relationships between the conformity enforcers and the diversity generators that enable sustainability and resilience in the Human Hive.

In Integral City Book 1, the roles of diversity, conformity, resource allocation and integration are all explored because the bees use these roles. Only through the cycling between conformity and diversity does the beehive – and probably the Human Hive, integrate the hive mind to achieve survival, sustainability and resilience.

Our specialist in systemic constellation (SCW) work shared that as an SCW facilitator she has learned to allow herself to be whatever participants need you to be including their projections on you. This can be very challenging but a facilitator who is willing to be in service to the greater good can allow others to work through their projections and differences (as the facilitator becomes the target at which they are aimed).

3. Now What will we do as a result, of our homework experience and sharing on leveraging conflict through shared intention?

We considered the many habits, patterns, roles, values and cycles enmeshed in leveraging conflict through shared intention. We agreed to practise in as many of these ways as possible.

  1. Consider the variations of change. Think of change as stages. When you perceive a human system is at a particular stage, consider how they may be best held – each stage will require different ways of being held. Doing nothing may even be the right thing to do (especially when the system is locked into extreme resistance or violence).
  2. Be willing to step into “enemy” territory with an awareness that mindful intention can help others work through their conflict. It may not engender an immediate outcome, but it can bring fresh and positive energy to the field so that others are able to practice the steps we have learned.
  3. Be willing to be what the group needs you to be as a facilitator. Tap into your capacity to detach from the situation.
  4. Prepare our facilitator selves to be able to stay neutral in face of hatred.
  5. Remember the prior skills of listening, being curious, naming emotions in yourself and others.
  6. Move beyond our habitual patterns and conflict styles where conflict can be labelled right/wrong and notice that conflict can simply be observed.
  7. Use conflict as an inquiry that is calling to be lived into from a larger space where we can model something with positive leverage for others – particularly in cities – where so many interactions take place every minute, hour, day.
  8. It seems important to cultivate interpersonal capacities so that we can relate to others and expand circles of care in order to find the shared intentions that can leverage conflict.
  9. That takes us right back to the first step – Stay present in the conflict. It is the first step to discovering what might be the pivot point that enables leverage because of becoming aware of shared intentions that might not be obvious if we don’t stay present.