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Let’s take a culturally inclusive approach to conflict | Worship


August 30, 2017

This image shows the four quadrants of the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory.

I am usually not that excited when I am invited to serve on another committee.

But these words from our mayor’s office got my attention: “Thank you for your interest in serving on this important advisory group to encourage and support a diverse and inclusive community with equity and respect…to help us understand how to promote active involvement and participation by all residents of Mukilteo. We hope that the outcome of this process is to help identify any barriers that prevent or inhibit public participation in policy making and in our hiring practices.”

In conversation, I later learned that the mayor’s office has special concern about the ways that our “standard operating procedures” may be barriers for people in our community with diverse ethnic, cultural and racial backgrounds.

My background is as a white male pastor who has served congregations in three states, all of which sought to be welcoming to all and gradually learned to include Samoan, Micronesian, Ukrainian, Korean and Hispanic people. I have also been a trainer for the Kaleidoscope Institute (KI) that trains leaders for “competent leadership in a diverse, changing world.”

As I have done this work over the last 20 years, I have learned how powerful our cultural norms around conflict are. One of the tools we use at KI to help people understand and experience how wide-ranging cultural approaches to conflict can be is the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory.

This inventory is grounded in research that shows that cultures vary in conflict approaches based on two continua: how direct or indirect people are, and how emotionally restrained or emotionally expressive people are.

While all cultures operate in all four quadrants shown below, some approaches are preferred or more common in certain cultures. For example, in the U.S. the Discussion Style (restrained and direct) is preferred by many. A person using this approach might say, “I know you are frustrated, but can’t we just sit down and talk this over?”

I could give examples of what each quadrant could sound like, but space prevents that; I hope you will explore the variations by checking out the website: The main take-away is that awareness and respect for all four quadrants creates much greater capacity for meaningful work.

Suffice it to say, most of our institutions function out of the Discussion Style, with little recognition that we are inviting (and expecting) people with quite different approaches to come to our quadrant to interact with us, rather than learning about the other styles and respecting people who use other approaches naturally.

As a result, I am actually quite thrilled to begin serving on another committee, and I hope you’ll watch as our work moves forward.

John Beck is a pastor of Pointe of Grace, a Mukilteo worship site of Trinity Lutheran Church. For more information about the Lutheran church, go to


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