Managing Conflict in Small Groups
Some common ways to manage conflict include clear decision-making procedures, third-party mediation, and leader facilitation.Donald G. Ellis and B. Aubrey Fisher, Small Group Decision Making: Communication and the Group Process, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994), 236–44. Decision making is discussed in more detail in Chapter 14 "Leadership, Roles, and Problem Solving in Groups", but commonly used methods such as majority vote can help or hurt conflict management efforts. While an up-and-down vote can allow a group to finalize a decision and move on, members whose vote fell on the minority side may feel resentment toward other group members. This can create a win/lose climate that leads to further conflict. Having a leader who makes ultimate decisions can also help move a group toward completion of a task, but conflict may only be pushed to the side and left not fully addressed. Third-party mediation can help move a group past a conflict and may create less feelings of animosity, since the person mediating and perhaps making a decision isn’t a member of the group. In some cases, the leader can act as an internal third-party mediator to help other group members work productively through their conflict.
Tips for Managing Group ConflictDonald G. Ellis and B. Aubrey Fisher, Small Group Decision Making: Communication and the Group Process, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994), 240–43.
- Clarify the issue at hand by getting to the historical roots of the problem. Keep in mind that perception leads us to punctuate interactions differently, so it may be useful to know each person’s perspective of when, how, and why the conflict began.
- Create a positive discussion climate by encouraging and rewarding active listening.
- Discuss needs rather than solutions. Determine each person’s needs to be met and goals for the outcome of the conflict before offering or acting on potential solutions.
- Set boundaries for discussion and engage in gatekeeping to prevent unproductive interactions like tangents and personal attacks.
- Use “we” language to maintain existing group cohesion and identity, and use “I” language to help reduce defensiveness.