Resolving conflict

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The aim of this exercise is to help you turn conflicts into joint problem-solving discussions.

Exercise 2 hourstime

Team preparation for the exercise is to read "I want a pay rise". This is a simple conversation illustrating how a team leader:

  1. Listens to a team member’s grievance to make sure the team member feels her grievance is being taken seriously.
  2. Asks questions to discover any deeper underlying issues.
  3. Explains factors making the solution difficult from her own (ie the team leader’s) viewpoint.
  4. Asks the team member for her ideas about how they can resolve the issue together.
  5. Continues the discussion as a joint problem to be solved in the light of all the factors raised.
The exercise

The basic idea behind successful conflict resolution is to shift the conversation from “A versus B”, “me against you” to joint problem-solving. (See the "Building teamwork" section of the right hand menu for more of the theory behind this approach to managing conflict.)

This is much easier said than done, but practising on imaginary situations helps and that’s what we are going to do here.

  1. Spend 15 minutes or so discussing the "I want a pay rise" conversation as a team. How realistic is it? What can you learn from it? What else might you have done to come to a constructive resolution to the problem?
  2. To practice shifting a conversation from “conflict” to “joint problem-solving” , I have written two simple imaginary conflict scenarios. Pick one and use it as a role-play, with one person in the team playing person A and another playing Person B. The scenario description gives you the headline. You can add your own thoughts to make Person A and Person B feel real. Keep it light, humorous even. You will learn just as much from the exercise, and can gradually get more expert as you get used to doing it.
    One person in the team should act as "facilitator" and the rest of the team act as "observers" who will give feedback to A and B at the end of the practice session. See the resolving conflict role play handout for guidelines on how to facilitate, be an observer and run the role play.
    It’s not complicated. It may feel a bit un-natural at first, but you will soon get into it if you approach it with the idea that you can improve your skills through practice. The role play, including getting everything sorted out at the beginning will probably take 20 minutes.
  3. At the end of the role play get the feedback from the observers and the people playing the roles, following the giving constructive feedback guidelines. That's another 15 minutes.
  4. When you have finally finished the role play and feedback, review what you have learnt. Discuss it in the team, and note down what you need to do differently - individually and as a team - to turn conflicts into solutions. The review and action points below will probably take 20 minutes.
  5. Write down some action points for yourself and/or for the team.
  6. Practice this new behaviour every day for the next three weeks.
  7. At the end of each week, spend a couple of minutes reviewing (individually or as a team) whether you are making the required changes to your behaviour. Put the review time in your calendar to remind yourself to do it.