Resolving Conflict

Working in groups, from time to time, involves some conflict. Conflict occurs where people have a clash of values, expectations, opinions, interpretations, needs, or wants. Learning to manage conflict effectively is an important skill, and an essential component of your learning when working in groups.

Conflict is:

  • Natural.
  • Uncomfortable for most of us.
  • A barrier to conversation/dialogue.
  • Sometimes necessary, even desirable to achieve a truly collaborative outcome.
  • Important to address and not avoid.

What are your ground rules for handling conflict?

It makes sense to consider this question early on in your group process and to come up with a few that will work for all of you. Here are some that you may find helpful.

  • Stay flexible.
  • Keep the interests of the group as the focus.
  • Only one person speaks at a time.
  • Listen to each other with respect and patience.
  • Focus on the problem and avoid personal attacks.
  • Participate in identifying options for moving forward (you may not be able to resolve the conflict).
  • Consider an objective approach for deciding outcomes when you are at a stalemate (this may be as simple as the group leader or another designate as having the final word or as complex as establishing a criteria for decision making).
  • Honor confidentiality.

What can you do to manage conflict more effectively?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has an entire site dedicated to conflict resolution. Here are 8 steps to conflict resolution from their resources.

1. Take care of yourself and understand your triggers.
We all react differently to different circumstances. If you’re dealing with conflict, make sure you’re well-rested and eating well, so you can be at your best.

2. Clarify personal needs threatened by the dispute.
Identify the desired outcomes and work towards those.

3. Identify a safe place for negotiation.
Consider the role of your instructor or TA here.

4. Take a listening stance in the interaction.

5. Assert your needs clearly and specifically.
Focus on the needs and goals of your group here.

6. Approach problem solving with flexibility.

7. Manage impasse with calm, patience and respect.

8. Build an agreement that works.

Resources related to conflict management:

UBC’s Faculty of Grad Studies has published some excellent resources related to something called Interest Based, Relational Approach to Conflict. It may sound fancy, but it’s a practical approach for maintaining relationships and respect for differences in a conflict.


Need to Develop Your Skills ?

There are a few skills or qualities you’ll need to develop, in order to manage conflict effectively. Here are a few examples from UBC’s Faculty of Grad Studies Conflict Resolution Guide:

  • Active and reflective listening skills (restating, paraphrasing, summarizing).
  • Empathy: focus on the person and make an observation (“it seems to me”), define the feeling (“you seem frustrated”), or frame the situation.
  • Curiosity: ask open ended questions whenever possible; who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  • Use behaviors that elicit cooperation rather than resistance (developed by the University of Colorado).

Resources related to communicating in conflict:

Common Group Problems and Communication Tips (from the Derek Bok Center: Harvard University)
Conflict and Consensus
UBC’s Faculty of Grad Studies Conflict Resolution Guide
Group Projects:A Conflict Resolution Guide for Students


Resources available at UBC

There are advocacy and policy resources that you may want to seek out if conflict becomes unmanageable or uncomfortable. Your instructor or TA is your first stop, but here are some others that may be helpful:

Workshops:Student Services: Leadership & Involvement

Student resources:AMS Advocacy Office

Policy:UBC’s Equity Office

Just remember, if you’re signing up to a web service hosted in the U.S.A., you’ll want to take note of their privacy policies before you give up any personal information. The United States have different privacy projection laws than Canada does. The Canadian government released these tips for protecting your personal information across borders

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