Facilitator Journal | Issue #0222, September 20, 2005 | 7,000
Dealing with conflict is often quoted as the biggest concern of
group facilitators. The emotion involved often makes conflict uncomfortable
for all concerned, hence we tend to avoid it. But, conflict is a
normal, natural part of human interaction and sooner or later it
is part of virtually every group’s experience. When acknowledged
and dealt with in a positive manner, conflict can clarify differences,
increase the creativity of the group and build a strong team. On
the other hand, if left untended, it can be damaging to the productivity
and coherence of the group.
In this week's article, "Queasy
about Conflict?," by Pam Plumb of Great
we look at several tips at preventing and resolving conflict that
inevitably arises in groups. Both Pam and her partner Dee Kelsey
participated in one-hour interview entitled, "Defusing
What to do with anger and
conflict in groups. See the details of this recorded interview after the article below to learn additional tips from these experts on dealing with
heated situations in groups.
a great week!
here for details
here for details
for keeping it positive and productive.
Why are we so nervous about conflict in the groups we facilitate? It is
the anger, emotion and personal attacks in conflict that make us uncomfortable
and that are debilitating to groups. Conflict is a normal, natural
part of human interaction and sooner or later it is part of virtually
every group’s experience. When acknowledged and dealt with in a positive
manner, conflict can clarify differences, increase the creativity of the
group and build a strong team. On the other hand, if left untended, it
can be damaging group productivity and coherence.
a group in addressing conflict — rather than eliminating it —
should be your goal as facilitator, finding ways to ratchet down the emotions
and depersonalize the argument so that differences can help bring the
group to a better solution.
unnecessary conflict. Many conflicts that arise in meetings can
be prevented. Examples of unnecessary conflicts are:
- Someone not bringing
pertinent materials to a meeting so that people can move forward
- An enthusiastic
individual dominating the conversation because there is no ground rule
about sharing the airtime.
- Group members
who are unsure of their roles or hold different ideas about the decision
- Ensuring you have
the needed information, setting ground rules, clarifying roles and decision
making tools in advance are valuable preventions.
What to do
when full blown, angry conflict erupts? When conflict breaks
out most of us want to duck under the table. But our job is to wade into
the middle of it and find ways to make the differences useful to the group.
Here are some steps to consider.
- Name that there
is a difference of opinion and acknowledge the value of having different
points of view.
- Reference relevant
ground rules, if you have them, to help you such as: one person speak
at a time; attack the problem, not the person; use “I messages” when
- Name the area
of disagreement precisely. You may be surprised how many problems go
away simply by a more careful definition. For example, instead of, “John
and Lea, you seem to disagree about flextime,” say “John and Lea, you
seem to disagree about whether flextime is possible in the personnel
department during first shift.”
- Invite each party
to explain why he holds his point of view. Encourage each person to
be specific and give supporting data. “Lea, let’s list your reasons
for opposing a shift to flex time.”
the language as you summarize the different points of view. Stay focused
on the issue. If John says, “You’re determined to force me to come to
work so early that I can’t take my daughter to day care.” You can reframe
John’s concern by saying, “ John, your main concern regarding work hours
is that you have the time to get your daughter to day care before work.”
- If one person attacks
another with statements such as: “That’s a dumb idea!”, intervene immediately
to reframe the comment to acknowledge the disagreement but to remind
people to focus on the issue with out attacking one another. “Lea, John
has a different opinion and you disagree with his point of view. What
is your opinion and why?”
- Use tools, such
as sheets of pros and cons for each point of view, in order to illuminate
for the full group the reasoning and choices.
- Grab hold of any
agreement that you see between the parties. “So, you are both concerned
that flex time not leave the office unattended at the edges of the day.”
Or, “You both agree that we need to find a way to expand the hours that
the office is open.”
- Make sure that
you are hearing from everyone in the group on the issue, not just the
- Move from conflict
to problem solving involving the whole group.
facilitating a meeting of employees who are trying to solve a parking problem.
There are two distinct factions, the “pave more land for parking” group
and the “get everyone to car pool or take the bus” group. The debate is
getting heated. “You just want to pave over the whole world until all the
birds and plants are gone!” Sam hurls across the room at Roshan. She shoots
back, “You’re just an unrealistic tree hugger!” Quickly but calmly you move
into the middle of the situation. “Sam and Roshan”, you say, “Let’s focus
on the difference in your points of view and not tackle each other. Sam,
I’ve heard you say that you are concerned about more paving around the headquarters
building because of the storm water run off problems and your global concern
about using less fossil fuel. In addition, you are particularly concerned
about not disturbing the stand of birches to the east of the building. Is
that correct?” As Sam confirms your summary, you write his concerns on a
flip chart. Now you turn to Roshan. “Roshan, I’ve heard you express concerns
that car pooling and bus riding is not practical for those who live in more
rural areas or who need to juggle day care issues. Is that right?” Again
you record her concerns. Having shifted the discussion back to the issue
and way from the personal confrontation, you now open the issue to the rest
of the group asking for their interests and concerns. Then your group will
be able to problem solve, looking for a solutions that meets as many of
their interests as possible.
Additional tools for managing conflict.
In Chapter 9 of Great Meetings! Great Results there are a number
of approaches to managing conflict including:
Moving from Positions to Interests
In their book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving in (Houghton
Mifflin Co, Boston, 1981), Roger Fisher and William Ury offer a four-step
model for working out differences:
1) Separate the people from the problem: encourage careful
listening and don’t allow personal attacks.
2) Focus on interests, not positions: when someone states
a position, ask “why” to learn about their underlying interests.
3) Invent options for mutual gain: use brainstorming to
generate multiple options that meet everyone’s interests.
4) Insist on objective criteria: ahead of time, establish
criteria that will be mutually acceptable.
Often when you are facilitating, you find people or whole groups that are
stuck in positions. It is usually a yes/no situation such as: “We must do
it this way.” and “No we can’t do it that way.” The Fisher and Ury model
encourages you to ask each person or group why he or they hold that position.
It may take some work to help each party articulate the reasons. But once
the reasons are clear, then the parties have a chance to problem solve for
a solution that will meet most of their collective interests.
Structured Sharing of Conflicting Opinions
Structured Sharing of Conflicting Opinions is another tool for
building understanding between people or groups who hold different opinions
on an emotionally charged issue. It can be helpful between two individuals
or used with two individuals representing to opposing groups. It is adapted
from training work done by the National Coalition Building Institute.
Step I. Ask person A to state her opinion without interruption
from person B.
Step II. Person B restates what he has heard person A say,
without adding anything.
Step III. B asks A questions to encourage her to explain
why she holds her opinion or how she came to it.
Step IV. A and B switch roles. B states his opinion with
Step V. A restates what she has heard person A say, without
Step VI. A asks B questions to encourage him to explain
why he holds that opinion or how he came to it.
Step VII. Begin interactive discussion around the topic.
This process is better suited for building understanding in conflicts based
on values differences than for driving to agreement on an issue. Often individuals
or groups move from this process to finding common ground and other things
beyond the main issue that they can agree on.
Don’t be queasy about conflict. Bring people back to the issue, depersonalize
the debate and let difference serve the group.
About the Author. Pam Plumb discovered during her years
as a City Councilor and Mayor of Portland that effective meeting planning
and facilitation made a big difference in meeting outcomes In 1991, she
created Pamela Plumb & Associates which serves a wide range of non-profit
organizations, businesses and government organizations with process design,
facilitation, training and organizational development. She is known internationally
for her process work and training in municipal governance.
This week, try one of the conflict resolution strategies above with one
of your groups or in a conflict you're having with someone in your life.
us your comments.
Facilitation Micro-Skills Tele-Seminar:
What to do with anger and
conflict in groups. Featuring
Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb,
Facilitators, and Trainers. Attend
this one-hour tele-seminar with Dee
Kelsey, Pam Plumb and Steve Davis onThursday,
September 29th at 1:00 PM Eastern (NY Time).
"Just in Time" Learning
and Pam, owners of Great Meetings!
Inc., have worked together for over 10 years, since they first pooled
their experience and expertise in training and facilitation in a jointly
developed and delivered certificate course in facilitation skills. They
have brought their facilitation skills and training programs to hundreds
of individuals and organizations: groups as varied as large corporations,
small businesses, nonprofit's of all kinds and sizes, schools, hospitals,
medical groups, local and state governments. Together they have written
two books, Great Meetings! How to Facilitate like a Pro
and the greatly revised and expanded Great Meetings! Great Results,
which have carried their message about the importance of facilitation
In this interview with Dee and Pam, we'll focus specifically on constructively
dealing with those most difficult times when things get hairy in groups.
Some of the points we'll discuss are...
Why is conflict so difficult in groups? Aren’t we looking for different
points of view when we are facilitating?
How do you distinguish between a healthy conflict and a non-productive,
group damaging situation?
In your experience, what are the types of conflicts that you see in groups?
Why are some disagreements more heated than others?
When two participants start arguing angrily and attacking each other,
how can you wade into that situation to both diffuse their anger and redirect
their energy to a more positive conversation?
What about meetings where the participants are set in two deeply divided
camps? What can you do to move things forward?
What specific tools can a facilitator use to help a group work with differences?
How do you manage a sudden dramatic outburst from one participant that
startles the entire group?
And, answers to any questions you bring to the tele-seminar.
Checklist to negotiating a conflict in groups.
2. Assessment checklist: Questions to ask during the client interview
3. 30% Discount on Dee and Pam's new book, "Great Meetings! Great
seminar is free to FacilitatorU.com members.
Click here to view features and benefits of membership.
for details about this interview, the bonuses, and registration.
Meetings! Great Results, by Dee Kelsey, Pan Plumb
It is challenging to
work as a group. Managing a successful meeting takes planning and preparation,
a host of facilitation skills and a bag full of process tools. Great Meetings!
Great Results is a clearly written, down-to-earth, “how to” book designed
for beginners and experts alike, for trainers, consultants, human resource
professionals, group leaders and members. It is a resource book designed
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a great meeting and to give you a variety of facilitation tools and techniques
for managing meetings as well. If you are ready to leave behind frustrating,
ineffective meetings for meetings that are engaging and produce results,
Great Meetings! Great Results was written for you.
dread meetings, but this book, with its practical, proven tips and techniques
has delivered great results for me with groups in London, Belgrade, San
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Meetings! sounds like an oxymoron to you, read this book soon because
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--Peter Twitchell Director, Program Development. YouthBuild U.S.A.
Out Brush Fires...
to intervene in
difficult group situations
how to effectively
intervene when things
heat up in your groups
nearly 30 years of facilitation I was both surprised
and pleased at the level of learning and number of new
insights I gained from this excellent teleclass. The
trainers modeled outstanding facilitation skills, and
the format was highly interactive and very engaging.
The teleclass was administered flawlessly and was customer
friendly. I'd recommend this class to anyone who wants
to become a better facilitator.--Mary Hoagland
Do non-stop talkers, silent groups or dramatic conflicts
ever knock your meetings off track? These meeting situations
take a toll on a group’s ability to work together
and cost time and money. This 5 hour teleclass, taught
by Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb, authors of Great Meetings!
Great Results, will increase your ability to know when
and how to intervene effectively in difficult situations
to get your meetings back on track. You will find the
course Putting out Brush Fires: Intervening in Difficult
Situations to be highly interactive.
Each class includes a short content presentation, discussion,
demonstration, participant exercise, debrief, and discussion
of application. This course if for anyone who facilitates,
manages, teaches, mediates, coaches, counsels, directs
to you for participating in this Training...
your ability to know when and how to intervene in difficult
2. Get practice and coaching on your intervention
skills to internalize your ability to intervene.
3. Gain confidence to manage challenges with ease so
your meetings will be more productive and more fun.
4. A chance to work through the specific kinds of issues
you face with the experts
5. Collaborate and learn from a community of your peers,
all passionate about empowering groups.
the Training works...
1. You listen to 5 hours of a recorded teleclass in MP3 or CD format.
2. You work through a learning/resource workbook which
accompanies the class including practice assignments
after each session.
Out Brushfires Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during the
one: Introduction to each other and the course
two: Know yourself and assess the situation
Assessing the situation
Introduction of the Great Meetings! Intervention
What to look for when considering an intervention
What questions to ask to determine if an intervention
three: Step into the situation: interrupting
Four: Step into the situation: other intervention options
Review of Intervention model
Examples of other interventions
Choosing the right intervention
Choosing the right level of intervention
Application of the techniques to your own situations
Five: Help the group move on and prepare to prevent
Also included with
In addition to the training described above, you also
1. A downloadable version of the book, Great Meetings!
($25 value) and a 20-page workbook to serve as resources
in the future ($15 value)
2. Free access to the MP3 version of the training
3. Articles and resources around using Improv in leadership
- Steps for negotiating conflict in a group.
- Meeting Assessment checklist: Questions to ask during
the client interview.
Thank you, Pam and Dee! I have facilitated
group meets for years and have taken a number of classes
to enhance my facilitation skills. But your classes
have been the best I have attended and what I've learned
from you will help me be more effective in serving these
-- Leslie Krauz Stambaugh, Principal, RLS Associates--
Self-Guided MP3 Audio Version
you'd like to learn this material at your own pace and
on your own schedule, you can purchase the MP3 audio
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guide. You'll be provided with access to recorded offerings
of the five-hour teleclass (5 hours total) that you
can listen to online and follow along in the learning
guide is used in the live class. Click
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Compact Disk (CD) or MP3 Disk version comes with all
of the self-guided features listed above, together with
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in a one-day "live" version of this class
offered to your group? Email us to
Dee Kelsey. Dee
has been facilitating groups since her teenage years.
She turned her early interests into more formal work
both as a trainer and personnel representative at Hewlett
Packard and as a mediator and trainer of mediators for
the city of Palo Alto, California. In addition to her
work with Great
Meetings! Inc, she has been principal of Dee Kelsey
and Associates since 1985. She has worked nationally
to provide organizational development, facilitation,
process consultation, mediation, and training services
to hundreds of clients ranging from small work groups
to large corporations.
About Pam Plumb. Pam discovered during her
years as a City Councilor and Mayor of Portland that
effective meeting planning and facilitation made a big
difference in meeting outcomes In 1991, she created
Pamela Plumb & Associates which serves a wide range
of non-profit organizations, businesses and government
organizations with process design, facilitation, training
and organizational development. She is known internationally
for her process work and training in municipal governance.
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immediately. It's our policy to do this and we honor
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