Managing Conflict in Groups
Conflict is a natural part of any group's experience.
Some conflicts are preventable. Preparing adequately; bringing the right materials to the meeting; and establishing roles, responsibilities, ground rules, expected outcomes, and decision making methods all will help avoid unnecessary conflict.
Other conflicts are important to the group's work. Handled well, those conflicts can clarify differences, increase the creativity of the group, and produce better results.
However, if a conflict is ignored, it can be damaging to the productivity and coherence of the group.
Conflict is defined as a problem that evokes strong feelings. Our tendency is to dismiss the feelings. However, listening carefully and, when appropriate, acknowledging the emotion, is a necessary first step before you get to problem solving.
The Drama Club advisor is meeting with students to make a decision about the final play of the season. While the group is discussing three possible plays, Johanna shouts out: " I am really ticked off about this process."
The advisor, realizing that this burst of feeling probably indicates conflict, asks Johanna to talk about the problem. After listening carefully, the advisor tentatively summarizes what he hears as the problem: "Johanna, do I understand correctly that you are upset because all of these plays call for small casts and we have lots of people who want to be in the plays?"
If she confirms that as her concern, the advisor then asks the other students what they think about the issue.
After others have spoken, the advisor summarizes: "The issues seem to be that we want to perform a quality play with as large a cast as possible. Is that correct?"
By giving participants time to state their concerns, the group can now focus on problem solving rather than on managing anger.
The key steps in managing a conflict are:
For more information about managing group conflict during meetings, order your copy of Great Meetings! Great Results today.
NEXT WEEK IN GREAT MEETINGS: Intervening in non-productive individual situations.