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Creating Norms: A Simple Method For Managing Group Conflict

by Michael Goldman, M.H.Sc., CPF

Few workplace situations are as exasperating as belonging to a team that's experiencing routine or entrenched conflict. While this phase of team development is normal, it disrupts productivity and leaves its members feeling frustrated and unheard. What can you do?

There really aren't any quick fixes here and there are typically many reasons for team conflict, but a desire to make your feelings known is the first step in helping your team tackle its ineffective behavior. However, it's important to remember that, depending on how you make your feelings known could be perceived as yet another problem or an as opportunity for the team to become more effective.

About You

Let's talk about you first.

Should the feeling "I'm going to kill someone" come up for you during a meeting, chill out. No one is going to listen to someone who is emotionally volatile. In fact, with quiet people, your intervening strategy may shut them down entirely, while domineering members will just get more fired up.

So take a few deep breaths and try to feel the weight of your body against the floor (seriously!). Keep on doing this until you feel a sense of calm.

Then ask the group, "Can I give some feedback about our group process?" If people are willing to listen try the following method:

1. State what you've observed (i.e. "I noticed in the last 20 minutes that when John presented his idea, none of us acknowledged what he had to say. Rather, we just went into our own stuff...").

2. State what you imagine is going on (i.e. "I imagine that we all have good intentions, but when push comes to shove our own agendas come first.").

3. State how it impacted you (i.e. "I'm feeling frustrated because I, and perhaps others, don't feel heard by the team.").

4. State what you want (i.e. "If we could listen first to what someone has to say, then repeat back what we think we heard, I think the speaker would feel more supported and that their ideas haven't been missed.").

5. Following this intervention, be quiet. Let the team respond. If no one responds or people get sarcastic (i.e. we're not here to talk about your feelings!), ask other members if they feel the same way. You may have to repeat your feedback to ensure everyone has heard you—try not to get frustrated!

About The Team

Let's talk about the team now.

If members have heard what you want and are willing to follow through, then you have essentially asked them to follow an operating rules or 'norm' on 'listening.' In fact, while you're at it, see if there are any other rules or 'norms' the team needs to live by in order to become higher performing.

Flipchart these ideas and suggest that these rules are posted every meeting. Whoever is chairing or facilitating the meeting could use these rules to ensure people are behaving within the team's expectations. Once a month the team should review these to see which rules need to be modified or removed.

It's important to realize that all your teams experience conflict and it's normal for teams to enter and fall back into conflict during its development. Understanding this, and proactively taking time to voice your opinion and develop norms, ensures the team a healthy future.

Copyright 2006 - Facilitation First Inc. All rights reserved.

Michael Goldman is President of Facilitation First, a company that specializes in providing professional meeting facilitation and training. Call him at 416-465-9494.

 

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Monday, 18 Dec 2017 07:39 AM

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