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Facilitation and Conflict - Graceful Conflict

December 15, 2022

Facilitating Conflict

This is the fourth and final installment of the four-part series on conflict. In the first part, we explored why we need conflict. In the second how to establish a space that will be conducive to exploration of ideas.  In the third some techniques to review suggestions and ideas. In this post, we will explore a pattern to guide the group through a conflict objectively. 

There are four parts to this series, this is the fourth and final part.: 

1. Why we need Conflict 

2. Ground Rules for effective conflict facilitation  

3. Objective evaluation of Ideas  

4. How to Navigate Conflict 

When Conflict Emerges 

Conflict is an essential part of engagement and the way that people find the optimal solution to a challenge. Once conflict is identified, the accountability of the facilitator is to guide the group through to a resolution. This is a process that I use to guide groups to a resolution. When it is not possible to find convergence or resolution, you will need to acknowledge that and agree a plan to resolve the conflict. 

Conflict facilitation flow

1. Recognise the conflict 

When you sense there is a conflict, check your intuition with a question. 

“It seems that not everyone is aligned on this topic, and there are a few different views, would you agree?” or 

It appears that there is a conflict on this, is that correct?” 

There may be another dynamic that you are not aware of. I have often found this with a group that has a history together, or a different culture and background to my experience. Clarifying whether there is a conflict can help keep you as a facilitator centred and avoid going down an unnecessary pathway. 

If the room responds that all is good, carry on with the agenda. Otherwise, help the group navigate the conflict. 

2. Start with what is in agreement 

Explore the areas of collective agreement. Use whatever facilitation techniques you preferer – sticky notes, group brainstorming, small groups building to the room. The emphasis on what is agreed. This provides a good basis to explore the differences in the points of view. 

Ensure that there is explicit acknowledgement from all parties on the points of agreement. 

3. Clarify what is not agreed 

Once the points of agreement are listed, then move on to the points where there is not agreement. Generate a list of the key points. At this stage it is helpful not to become drawn into the details of each point. Consolidate the points to bring focus.  

It may be helpful to use mirroring techniques to reflect the points back to ensure that there is a common understanding of the conflict. If possible, try to narrow down to describe the root of the disagreement. Rephrase the conflict as succinctly as possible. Maintain objective neutral language. 

“Prakash states that X is the optimal way forward, and Nancy states that Y is the optimal approach. The two approaches diverge on topic Z.” 

4. Clarify what is needed to change perspective 

Invite the people to reflect on what data they would need to change their perspective. This sounds quite simple; however, they may become stuck as they commit to their initial position. A couple of techniques that I have found effective are: 

  • Flip positions. Each person states the other persons perspective, and argue against their initial position. 

  • What would it take you to move just a little to the other person’s position? 

  • What is stopping you from supporting the other view? 

Focus on good enough 

At this point, a new idea or perspective may emerge that everyone can support. If everyone is aligned, then return to the agenda and continue with the event. 

There is a key phrase used in high performing teams "Disagree and commit". This means that each individual accepts the group decision, and works with it.

There are occasions where the distance between the two parties is so far that it is not feasible to address the conflict within the event. If this is the case then it needs to be stated, and a plan of action on how to resolve the conflict. This may require another event, with suitable planning and facilitation. 

The key is to ask the group that you are facilitating how they want to deal with the conflict. 

Call to action 

When we facilitate, we need to be prepared to help the group to navigate conflict. It is the reason that we are there as a facilitator. We need to remain calm, objective and good humoured as we help the group navigate the process. 

To help us, we need to prepare for the event with clear outcomes and agenda and be in an active listening mode. We need to reflect to the group the words that we are hearing, and the weaker signals that we are detecting. Every time we help a group navigate a conflict successfully, we are helping them build trust in each other and the skill to manage conflict themselves. 

How will you prepare for your next conflict facilitation? 

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