The Game of Conflict: Rules, Reactions, Roles, Ramifications, and Rewards.

The Game of ConflictSometimes Twitter randomness can spark an idea that is worth exploring beyond 140 characters.  Reading “A different way to game,” in which  developer Jason Rohrer explains how video games can be used to challenge our perceptions of the world, followed by a Twitter conversation with @TriciaLewis, @idealawg, @CINERGYCoaching and @BenZiegler, led me to ponder a question of approaching conflict as a game.

When we say someone “is playing games,” it typically has a negative connotation of manipulating people.  Yet, I would argue that every conflict has a game in it.  Games excite the brain because they offer novelty, control, rituals, status enhancement and rewards – all things that our brains like.  The game of conflict has its own components:

Rules are patterns of human behavior that can be either consciously encouraged or implicitly assumed by the participants in conflict. Rules are fundamental because our brains work like prediction machines, recognizing patterns, making predictions, and fine-tune expectations to better fit the outcomes.  Clashing sets of rules increase the likelihood of tensions and misunderstandings.  Parties may not even be aware of the patterns that govern their interactions as those patterns may be coping strategies or learned responses that are subconscious and automatic.  Examples of such rules may be “Withdraw when feel offended” or “Defend the need to be perfect.” To manage conflict effectively, parties need to uncover those implicit rules and negotiate new more productive forms of engagement.

Rules prompt parties’ specific reactions.  For example, the rule “Defend the need to be perfect” may cause someone to dismiss valuable critique or play safe and avoid challenging assignments. Reactions are observable while rules may not be obvious.  In order to change their reactions, parties may have to become aware of the underlying rules first.

Playing by the rules often leads parties to assume certain roles, such as the victim, aggressor, skeptic, conformist, rebel, etc.  The longer we play a particular role, the more familiar it becomes.  Parties develop scripts and expectations around the roles they play.  Their identities and the sense of self may become inseparable from their roles.

Parties’ behavior patterns in conflict have ramifications, or negative consequences.  Damaged relationships, poor workplace morale and performance, personal unhappiness, and social isolation are all examples of ramifications in the game of conflict. Parties rarely choose these consequences on purpose, but they cannot disengage from them as long as the dysfunctional patterns continue.

Every repeated behavior also has its rewards.  Anger or aggression, no matter how damaging, may be used as a way to gain autonomy and control.  Assuming the mindset of a perpetual victim may absolve the party of the need to take responsibility for the situation or to change.  It is important to understand what we gain from a pattern if we want to change it. Immediate gains are more appealing to the brain than long-term benefits.  Parties may have to look for better ways to get the same benefits or trade the immediate reward for a different benefit.

The conflict management process allows parties to examine each component of the game of conflict and develop a new game with the desired goals and new behavior patterns in mind. The template of rules, reactions, roles, ramifications, and rewards can also be used in conflict management training to design conflict simulations and … games, of course.

What game components do you see in conflicts?

By | 2012-03-28T18:29:10+00:00 March 28th, 2012|Change, Communication, Conflict Management|0 Comments

10 ways to gamify your thinking to make it better

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
~ Plato

Have you ever played with kaleidoscopes – those tubes of mirrors with colorful beads?  You turn and shake them, and the stones form different patterns, reflecting off the mirrors.  Our minds can be like kaleidoscopes.  We receive the same pieces of information, but they get reflected off the mirrors of our experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and form our own, unique patterns of understanding.  We can use play to shake up some old patterns and beliefs that no longer serve us to improve our thinking and decision-making.

Play delights the brain. Some neuroscientists believe that play is a central part of neurological growth and development. Play allows children to build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept, and cognitively flexible brains.  Play has also been identified as one of the primal emotional systems of animals through brain stimulation.  Many believe adults can also benefit from play as a way to boost creativity, imagination, and decision-making.

As adults we become overly concerned with the opinions of others.  The fear of embarrassment and social rejection inhibits our creative expression.  Play can relax the brain and make it easier for us to take risks and experiment.  Play helps us prepare for the unexpected and produce a more diverse repertory of behavior.  When we play, a part of the brain that is involved in self-restraint and evaluation – the inner critic – is powered down, allowing for a fuller expression.

Through role playing, we can put ourselves into different kinds of experiences, learn to better understand other perspectives, and cultivate empathy.  Finally, play is also a ritual with its sets of rules and scripts.  As with any ritual, play sets expectations for a certain kind of behavior and prompts the brain to give commands in accordance with these expectations. Here is how you can gamify your thinking to make it better:

  1. Connect the dots to solve your life’s puzzles. Scan your past for repeating behavior patterns, causes and effects.  Learning is the anchor of our experiences, both good and bad.  Without it, we are just drifting through life.
  2. Remove the invisibility cloak: you can’t change what you can’t see.  Develop self-awareness.  Pay attention to context.
  3. Play hopscotch with your own stream of thoughts: know where to land and what to overlook.
  4. Master Jeopardy: your power lies in the questions you ask.  The answer is always closer than you think.
  5. Find your good luck charm. The belief anchored in a symbolic object may cause you to perform better.  The power of suggestion makes the brain respond as if it were true, triggering a placebo effect.
  6. Be a  storyteller. Nothing captivates a human brain more than a good story.  Stories engage us on the emotional level.  Experiences accompanied by strong emotions are more memorable.  When the story resonates with the listener, the brains of the speaker and listener may synchronize, suggesting a deep human connection.
  7. Use a box to think “outside the box.”  Acting out creativity metaphors makes us more creative.
  8. Think on your feet, literally. Let your body guide you when you need to make a decision.  If you experience muscle tension, a “pit” in stomach, or a sudden headache, perhaps, your body is telling you that you are moving in a wrong direction.
  9. Play dress-up.  Clothing affects not only other people’s perception of us, but also our own thoughts.  For example, if you need to pay more attention to detail, you may want to don a scientist’s white lab coat.
  10. Sharpen your thinking through doodling. Doodle, sketch, illustrate your ideas.  Pictures are easier for the brain to process and remember.  Get inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrated to-do list.