Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0222, September 20, 2005 | 7,000 Subscribers....
Dear friends,

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 Meetings! Inc., 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 Explosions: 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.

Have a great week!

Steve Davis


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The Point

Queasy about Conflict?
Tips for keeping it positive and productive.

Group Process Skill

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.

Guiding 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.

Preventing 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 making tool.
  • 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 giving opinions.
  • 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.”
  • Depersonalize 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 key protagonists.
  • Move from conflict to problem solving involving the whole group.



You are 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 interruption.
Step V. A restates what she has heard person A say, without adding anything.
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. Please email us your comments.

Facilitation Expert Series

dee kelsey pam plumb Facilitation Micro-Skills Tele-Seminar:
"Defusing Explosions: What to do with anger and conflict in groups. Featuring Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb, Authors, 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

Dee 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 to thousands.

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.

Three Bonuses!

1. 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 Results."

This seminar is free to members.
Click here
to view features and benefits of membership.

Click here for details about this interview, the bonuses, and registration.

Book Resource

Great 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 to help you understand the important steps for planning and designing 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.

People everywhere dread meetings, but this book, with its practical, proven tips and techniques has delivered great results for me with groups in London, Belgrade, San Juan, Winnipeg, Washington, and even at my own family reunion. If Great Meetings! sounds like an oxymoron to you, read this book soon because it will completely change your approach to planning and facilitating any kind of gathering. Using a combination of practical skills, sophisticated group psychology and bull’s-eye common sense, Great Meetings! makes long-winded unfocused meetings a thing of the past.
--Peter Twitchell Director, Program Development. YouthBuild U.S.A. Boston, Massachusetts--

In the Spotlight

Putting Out Brush Fires...

How to intervene in
difficult group situations

Learn how to effectively intervene when things
heat up in your groups

After 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

The Teleclass...

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 any group.

Benefits to you for participating in this Training...

Increase your ability to know when and how to intervene in difficult situations.
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.

How 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.

Putting Out Brushfires Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during the course...

Day one: Introduction to each other and the course

  • What is a “brush fire”?

  • Why does intervention matter?

  • What are our values for framing interventions?

Day two: Know yourself and assess the situation

  • Staying grounded in the face of difficult situations

    • Gaining insight into your personal reactions to brush fires

    • Knowing how to get and stay grounded

  • Assessing the situation

    • Introduction of the Great Meetings! Intervention model

    • What to look for when considering an intervention

    • What questions to ask to determine if an intervention is needed

Day three: Step into the situation: interrupting

  • Different ways to intervene

  • Interrupting as one key tool

    • Cultural and personal frames on interrupting

    • The Art of interrupting

  • Application of the technique to your own situations

Day 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

Day Five: Help the group move on and prepare to prevent difficulties

  • Moving on from the intervention

    • Understanding what the group needs

    • Choosing tools

  • Good preparation: essential to preventing difficulties
  • Parking lot issues
  • Questions and answers
  • Wrap up and final evaluation

Also included with your training...
In addition to the training described above, you also receive:
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 ($79 value).
3. Articles and resources around using Improv in leadership and facilitation:

- 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 groups.
-- Leslie Krauz Stambaugh, Principal, RLS Associates--

Self-Guided MP3 Audio Version
If you'd like to learn this material at your own pace and on your own schedule, you can purchase the MP3 audio version of this teleclass complete with the learning 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 here to purchase for $79.


Click here to purchase the
MP3 Version for $79

Self-Guided CD or MP3 Disk
The Compact Disk (CD) or MP3 Disk version comes with all of the self-guided features listed above, together with CD's you'll receive by mail that you can listen to anywhere you have access to a CD or MP3 player. Click here to purchase for $89.

(CD and MP3)

Click here to purchase the CD/MP3 Version for $89
plus $4 Shipping and Handling Membership Option

Become a member of premium member and register for this teleclass at half price in addition to a host of other items and benefits. An exceptional value. Click here for details.

One-Day Live Version

Interested in a one-day "live" version of this class offered to your group? Email us to discuss options.

Your instructors

dee kelsey pam plumbAbout 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.

About the satisfaction guarantee
If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with this package, simply email us with a request to refund/credit your credit card in the full amount and we will do so immediately. It's our policy to do this and we honor this in every single case. This policy completely removes the buying risk for you and keeps our customer-satisfaction rates extremely high.

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