Conflict: Fight, Flight, or Opportunity? - Laird Schaub (Attended by John & Heather)
Laird is one of the founders of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities (FIC), which hosted the conference and consults on group dynamics.
The purpose of this workshop was to encourage groups to have a discussion about conflicts in meetings and in particular to encourage the groups to adopt plans to embrace conflict, learn from it, harness its energy, and bring the conflicted people people back into the discussion ready to continue the meeting.
Here the kind of conflict that is of interest is between two or more people and that which causes one or more to become incoherent, to a degree, and not able to participate in the meeting any more. This should be self-identified (e.g. “I’m above the ‘red-line’ right now, I’m angry/sad and don’t like what is happening,” etc.). The emotional response (the anger/sadness) is fine. We normally operate in the rational realm at meetings. Emotions can carry meeting. But they can also take you out of one’s ability to have rational discourse. Thus the plan to address the conflict (which brought arise to the emotional response) and carry on. The focus is not on any old conflict, only that which incites an emotional response which makes them incoherent and impairs the progress of the meeting, though the idea can be applied generally.
The steps that were suggested are as follows:
Address the person of highest excitement/distress, then address the others in turn. For each, the facilitator should ask them how they are feeling emotionally and they also ask them their story, what’s going on (the two can blend together, but one should definitely try and get them to say their emotional response, specifically). Now address the other distressed persons with the same questions. Block interruptions. Try to identify commonalities. Next ask each what is at stake. Finally, ask what concrete action step they can take (e.g. meet to discuss what each of them has done for the house at 3:00pm on Tuesdays for the next month), and/or suggest one.
Being heard solves most problems. Also, many people might not fully understand each position, or their communication may be bad.
Words of caution are that the group should not open the conflict bag of worms without being prepared to deal with it, as that might cause more harm than good. Though, a group must develop these skills partially through practice (the other part would be through discussion and the development of plans and/or training).
Reasons for are that if conflict is not addressed than information may be lost, the meeting may not be able to go forward.
Sometimes handling the conflict must be done in small
groups, per the comfortability of the conflicted person. Some personalities
simply like the confrontation attention.