Conative Styles and Christian Education

Having introduced the concept of conation (will, volition), I want to look at conative styles today.

Major Player: Kathy Kolbe seems to have done the most work in modern times, having identified four conative styles, developed an instrument to identify styles, blogged, and created a consulting company. Kolbe primarily works with businesses in her consultations, in the field of industrial/organizational psychology, to help teams run better and more efficiently. She looks at the conative styles of teams verses the expectations of those in authority and the perceived culture of the organization. She essentially examines how the individual team remembers operate instinctively in light of the assigned task and the managerial and cultural expectations.

Theoretical Basis: Kolbe’s work rests on two pillars. Firstly, she credits John Dewey and the idea that thinking and doing work together in the analysis of behavior. Secondly, she built the idea of the four styles (plus one, but more on that later) on the work of Carl Jung whose work undergirds the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). While the MBTI looks at issues of thought and values, Kolbe’s work examines the manifestation of action and modes of operation.

The Four Types: Kolbe identified four types of conative (doing) styles. In other words, she says that people tend to approach problem-solving (in the sense of imposing order on their environment) in four different ways or using four different strategies:

  1. Fact Finder: Strategies to probe, formalize, evaluate or define.
  2. Follow-Through: Strategies to organize, coordinate, structure, or plan.
  3. Quick Start: Strategies to improvise, reform, invent or devise.
  4. Implementor: Strategies to construct, build, practice, or demonstrate.

Additionally, she suggests that within each of these four behaviors, there are three operational zones (initiation: beginning an action, response: responding to a situation, and resistance: maintaining the status quo or resisting a change), meaning that there are twelve (four strategies times three zones) ways in which people solve problems. Kolbe views these actions as instinctive responses that do not change from person to person. For those who combine actions (for instance, the primary Fact Finder and secondary Follow-Through) she has identified specific patterns of behaviors or “insistence patterns” which have attached labels. She also identifies a fifth style, the Mediator, who does not initiate actions but tends to work with or against actions.

Relevance to Christian Education: Without speaking against Kolbe’s work, when I consider her theoretical foundations through the task, aim and theology of Christian education, I come to some differing conclusions with regard to her model. I think she’s done great work (not that she needs me to tell her that) and I believe Christian education can benefit from her approach. In the meantime, I can see parents using this as part of the child-rearing process to identify a child’s conative style and help the child develop and grow within that style. Church leaders can use this style info when seeking volunteers, while the academy could identify conative styles for students and tailor teaching methods to those styles.

Christian educators: consider the instinctive operational modes of your students.

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