How to Manage Group Conflict

Sections of this topic

    How to Manage Group Conflict

    © Copyright Carter
    McNamara, MBA, PhD

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Test – How Good Are You at Facilitating Conflict in a Group
    Now?
    How to Manage Group Conflict
    How to Help Group Members Get Unstuck
    Additional Perspectives on Conflict Management in Groups

    Also consider
    Related Library Topics


    Note that many methods intended for addressing conflict in groups also might
    be considered as methods to address conflict between two people. Therefore,
    also see Addressing
    Interpersonal Conflict.
    Also note that the reader might best be served to
    first read the topic Group
    Dynamics
    to understand the basic nature of most groups and their typical
    stages of development. (It’s not clear at this time if online groups have similar
    nature and stages.)

    Test – How Good Are You at Facilitating Conflict
    in a Group Now?

    Before you read about how to improve your skills in facilitating group conflict,
    you might get an impression of how good you are now. Here is a checklist that
    some facilitators use to be sure they are prepared to facilitate it constructively.
    You might use the checklist to assess how well you would do now in facilitating
    conflict.

    Facilitator
    Checklist for Conflict Management

    So, based on the results of using that checklist, what do you want to improve?
    Consider the guidelines in this topic.

    How to Manage Group Conflict

    If there seems to be prolonged conflict among several members of a group, then
    consider the following guidelines.

    1. First, verify if members indeed are in conflict. Ask the members. Listen
    for 3 minutes.

    They might not be in destructive conflict, at all. Robust groups might have
    conflict if members feel comfortable with sharing their views. Conflict is destructive
    if there is ongoing disagreements, name calling and people are getting upset.
    So, for now, describe what behaviors you are seeing that might indicate destructive
    conflict. Do not try to “diagnose” the causes of those behaviors,
    just saw what you are seeing or hearing. Acknowledge that conflict is natural
    in healthy groups, but explain why you suspect that conflict has become destructive.

    2. If members are in destructive conflict, then select approaches to resolve
    conflict.

    Take a 5-minute break. Ask one or two other members (a subgroup) to step aside
    with you. Ask them to suggest approach(es) to address the conflict, and then
    read the ideas listed immediately below. Ask them which approach(es) are most
    likely to move things along.

    3. Use the approaches selected by the subgroup, with the entire group.

    Explain that the approaches were selected by several of you, not by just one
    person. Ask that members set aside 10-15 minutes on the agenda to try them out.
    The more the members are in destructive conflict, the more likely they will
    be willing to try out the approaches.

    Possible Approaches to Conflict Resolution

    Depending on the situation and duration of the conflict, there are a variety
    of approaches that might support resolution of destructive conflict. Here are
    some possible approaches:

    • Focus on what members agree on, for instance by posting the mission, vision
      and/or values statements to remind people of why they are there.
    • Ask members, “If this disagreement continues, where will we be? How
      will it hurt our organization?
    • Have members restate their position. If it will take longer than three
      minutes, allow opportunities for others to confirm or question for understanding
      (not disagreement).
    • Shift to prioritizing alternatives, rather than excluding all alternatives
      but one.
    • Take a 10-minute break in which each member quietly reflects on what he/she
      can do to move the group forward.
    • Take 5-10 minutes and in pairs of two, each person shares with the other
      what he/she is confused or irritated about. One person in the pair helps the
      other to articulate his/her views to the larger group. Then switch roles and
      repeat the process.
    • Propose an “agree to disagree” disposition.
    • If disagreement or lack of consensus persists around an issue, have a subgroup
      select options and then report back to the full group.
    • Tell stories of successes and failures in how group members operate, including
      how members got past their differences and reached agreement.
    • Call for a vote on a stated question or decision.

    How to Help Group Members Get Unstuck

    Sometimes, even if there is a lot of participation from members and no prolonged
    conflict, a group might not seem to be making any progress on group activities.
    Members may simply be stuck, for example, during planning or when needing to
    make a major decision. Consider a similar general process as when a group seems
    in prolonged conflict (listed above). You could:

    1. First, verify if members indeed are stuck. Ask the members. Listen for
    3 minutes.

    They might not be stuck, at all. Name or describe what behaviors you are seeing
    that might indicate they are stuck. Do not try to “diagnose” causes
    of those behaviors, just name what you are seeing or hearing.

    2. If members are stuck, then select approaches to move the group forward.

    Take a 5-minute break. Ask two other members to step aside with you. Ask them
    to suggest the approach(es) to move things along, and then read the ideas listed
    immediately below. Ask them to choose which approach(es) would be most likely
    to move things along.

    3. Use the approaches, selected by the subgroup, with the entire group.

    Explain that the approaches were selected by several of you, not by just one
    person. Ask that members set aside 10-15 minutes on the agenda to try them out.
    The more the members are stuck, the more likely they will be willing to try
    out the approaches.

    Possible Approaches to Get Unstuck

    Depending on the situation, there are a wide variety of actions that might
    be helpful in moving the group forward. Possible approaches that members can
    use to become unstuck include:

    • Ask the group, “If we continue to be stuck, where will we be? How
      will we be hurting our organization?”
    • Take a five-minute break to let members do whatever they want.
    • Resort to some movement and stretching.
    • Ask for five examples of “out of the box” thinking.
    • Resort to thinking and talking about activities in which resources do not
      matter.
    • Play a quick game that stimulates creative thinking.
    • Use metaphors, such as stories, myths or archetypal images. For example,
      ask each person to take five minutes to draw or write a metaphor that describes
      his/her opinions and position in the meeting.
    • Have each or some of the planners tell a story and include some humor.
    • Use visualization techniques, for example, visualize reading an article
      about the organization’s success some years into the future. What does
      the article say about how the success came about?
    • Play reflective or energizing music (depending on the situation).
    • Restructure the group to smaller groups or move members around in the large
      group.
    • Have a period of asking question after question after question (without
      answering necessarily). Repetition of questions, “why?” in particular,
      can help to move planners into deeper levels of reflection and analysis, particularly
      if they do not have to carefully respond to each question.
    • Establish a “parking lot” for outstanding or unresolved issues,
      and then move on to something else. Later, go back to the stuck issue.
    • Turn the problem around by reframing the topic and/or issue. Usually, questions
      help this reframing happen.
    • Ask key questions, for example, “How can we make it happen? How can
      we avoid it happening?” Focus on what the group agrees on, for instance
      by posting the mission, vision and/or values statements to remind people of
      why they are there.

    Additional Perspectives on Conflict Management
    in Groups

    Facilitation
    Library

    Why Sensitivity Training Is Insensitive and Patronizing

    Resolving Team Conflict
    ERIC Trends and Issues Alert – Conflict Management
    List
    of Online Articles About Mediation

    Ways
    to Resolve Conflict in Your Team

    Also consider
    The following are group-based methods.
    Action Learning
    Board
    Committees

    Committees
    Communities
    of Practice

    Conflict Management
    Dialoguing
    Facilitation
    Focus
    Groups

    Group Coaching
    Group Conflict Management
    Group Dynamics
    (about nature of groups, stages of group development, etc)

    Group Learning
    Group-Based
    Problem Solving and Decision Making

    Large-Scale
    Interventions

    Meeting Management
    Open Space
    Technology

    Self-Directed
    and Self-Managed Work Teams

    Team Building
    Training
    and Development

    Virtual Teams


    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Group Conflict

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which
    have posts related to Group Conflict. Scan down the blog’s page to see various
    posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or
    click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

    Library’s
    Leadership Blog

    Library’s
    Supervision Blog

    Library’s
    Team Performance Blog


    For the Category of Facilitation and Teams:

    To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

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