Conflict Resolution Techniques: What’s a Facilitator to Do?

conflict resolution techniquesThere are many conflict resolution techniques that can be used in a variety of circumstances. A prior blog post discussed conflict resolution activities that we’re going to expand on a bit here.

A facilitator rarely has knowledge about meeting participants’ preferred conflict styles and it’s most likely that people themselves have little awareness of their own styles. The facilitator’s goal is to remain aware of the dynamics in the room and provide support for each individual’s participation. Being attentive to how assertive and how cooperative each person is being may help.

Conflict Resolution Techniques: Facilitation and Collaborative Coaching

Ingrid Bens, in her book Facilitating With Ease!, considers how a facilitator uses the conflict methods described by Thomas and Kilmann and how that choice affects group process:

  • Facilitators who avoid conflict might say, “You two seem to have reached a deadlock. I suggest we move on and discuss something else with the time we have available.” Bens notes that avoiding a conflict does not address whatever issue is at hand, and suggests this technique might be useful only in those situations when it is clear that the issue cannot be resolved.
  • Facilitators who prefer accommodation might say, “Bill, it seems to me that Fred is pretty adamant about his opinion. Could you accept his idea since yours won’t work for him?” Bens notes that accommodating merely smooths things over; she suggests this method is only appropriate in those situations where keeping the peace is more important than finding a solution.
  • A facilitator who fosters competing might say, “You both have strong arguments that you think are right. Which argument makes the most sense to everyone else?” Competing effectively divides the group and creates situations where some will be unhappy with the result. Bens suggests that facilitators should never encourage competition.
  • A facilitator who thinks a compromise might be appropriate might ask, “Is there a middle ground that combines your ideas?” Compromise may be the best option when a group is polarized and is unable or unwilling to take the time to collaborate.
  • A facilitator working to help a group collaborate might say, “Let’s see if we can work together to build a solution that would address everyone’s concerns.” Collaboration is often preferred over compromise as it deliberately attempts to address each person’s contributions and define solutions not yet identified that all can actively support. Bens observes, “This is the #1 preferred alternative for all facilitators. Use it in 65% of all conflict situations.”

Author: Wendy Green Lowe