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Managing Conflict in Groups

There are various types of problems or conflicts you will experience when dealing with groups. Here is a list of some of the main ones and a description of the tactics you can use to overcome them.

The Individual Whinge

Someone starts whinging and introduces a negative atmosphere.

Often the person thinks that they are representing the views of the whole group, but aren't.

You should actively listen. Then ask the rest of the group for their views (and actively listen/summarise).

Either others’ countering views will put the individual whinge into perspective, or it will turn into a group whinge.

Group whinge

Everyone starts whinging!

You should actively listen - and flipchart the various whinges (write them on the left hand side of a flipchart).

Check with the group that the list is complete (if not, extend it). You don't want to deal with these whinges, create a more positive atmosphere, and then have someone add some new reasons to whinge.

Once your list of whinges is complete, go back through each item, and classify using the CIC principle:

  • The problem is something that people in this group can CONTROL
  • It is something that the group is only able to INFLUENCE
  • It is something that the group can do nothing about, and is therefore a CONSTRAINT

Write the classifications next to each whinge on the flipchart.

Once the classifications are complete, go back through each whinge, and depending on the classification, ask the following questions:

For CONTROL issues, ask the group to identify actions that they can take to rectify the problem

For INFLUENCE issues, ask the group to identify who they need to speak to, and what they need to say, to try and influence the change

For CONSTRAINT issues, ask the group what they can do to live with the constraint, or make it more palatable (it is normal for groups to have more CONSTRAINTS than any other type - people whinge most about those things about which they are powerless).

The aim of this approach is to get the group thinking more positively rather than negatively, and concentrate on what they can do rather than the obstacles that are in their way.

Unanimous objection to a decision or course of action imposed from outside the group

Use active listening to clarify the decision or course of action to which people object

Project Management Training: Soft Skills Tools

Project Management Training

Overview



Individuals

Trust and Rapport

Networking

Winning Commitment

Listening

Using Power

Delegation

Conflicts



Small Teams

Group Conflicts

Team Development

Managing Difference

Communication



Team Islands

In/Out Groups

Building the wider team



Large Projects

Project Culture




Putting it all together


Divide a flipchart into two, vertically.

Write “-ves” at the top of the left column and “+ves” at the top of the right column.

Ask (once and only once) the group to suggest the “-ves” of this course of action. Flipchart the responses.

Then ask the group to suggest any “+ves” they can think of. As the group are in a negative frame of mind, they may need some prompting for ideas. After flipcharting their suggestions, ask “can you think of any more +ves?” Keep prompting until the list is as long as (or longer) than the negatives. (This technique changes the group’s frame of mind from purely negative, to a more balanced view).

AVOID:

  • Stating what you believe the group is thinking/feeling
  • What conclusions they should draw from the flipchart. (It will be easy for the group to see you as someone to argue with, as a representative of management, rather than considering the pros/cons of the matter for themselves).
  • Trying to get the group to agree with the course of action you would decide on
  • Saying the action is a good one.

DO:

  • Reflect and emphasise any positive conclusions expressed by someone in the group.
  • Stick to using the words they use (otherwise they might see your phraseology as a conclusion you are trying to impose, rather than one they have come up with themselves).
  • Encourage the discussion and debate between group members, rather than between you and the group.
  • Acknowledge their views if they are still collectively against the decision
  • Conclude when the group is in a positive frame of mind - ie: discussing the pros/cons in a level-headed way

Disagreement over a decision within the group

Use a decision-making methodology to facilitate the group reviewing the decision. (The outcome of this would either be agreement to the original decision, or possibly a better decision).

Whilst this may seem to waste time in going over a decision that has already been made, it will pay for itself if a consensus is achieved in the group. People often keep on challenging decisions with which they disagree time and time again, pointing out the validity of their own original choice.

Cynicism

Cynicism in a group discussion most usually results from a history of valid concerns having been dismissed. This can be addressed in part using the techniques for dealing with individual & group whinges.

Cynicism can also result from a tendency to put a negative spin on others’ motivations or reasons for action. Eg: “the reason we are being set these tough targets is so that we won’t be paid a bonus”. In such instances, there are likely to be other factors affecting that cynicism - not just the individual’s outlook, but the existence of strong in/out groups (see the later section on Team Islands for more information).

This latter type of cynicism cannot be dealt with fully in a group meeting. It is best to arrange a private, face-to-face discussion between the cynic and the person to whom negative motivations are being attributed.

Apollo Syndrome

In the Apollo Syndrome, progress gets blocked due to continual disagreement and finding fault with others ideas.

The best strategy is to ask the group “what do we agree on?”.

This may be met with a statement such as “I don’t know, but I disagree with…”. In such instances, you have to be assertive, and get the group to focus on what they agree on.

Flipchart the areas of agreement.

In the majority of cases, once the main points of agreement have been flipcharted, the points of disagreement seem less important/relevant and it is then easier to make progress.

The next article in this online course is:

Project Management Training:
Soft Skills Part 10: Team Development


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©2013 Team Technology. Further articles/resources that may be of interest include: Personality Test, Personality Type Descriptions, Myers Briggs overview, The Basics of Team Building, What Career is Right for Me?, and Career ideas.