Conflict Resolution

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Conflict Resolution Training will help you learn how to identify conflict, learn tools to help respond to the stress of conflict, learn more about emotional awareness, and to review the protocol for dealing with conflict in the Firefly organization.

Also see the Conflict Resolution Handout.

WHAT IS CONFLICT?

A conflict is more than just a disagreement. It is a situation in which one or both parties perceive a threat (whether or not the threat is real). Conflicts can occur between members of the Ranger organization, between different departments at Firefly, and between individual participants.

We respond to conflicts based on our perceptions of the situation, not necessarily to an objective review of the facts. Our perceptions are influenced by our life experiences, culture, values, and beliefs. Conflicts trigger strong emotions. If you aren’t comfortable with your emotions or able to manage them in times of stress, you won’t be able to resolve conflict successfully. Conflicts continue to fester when ignored. Because conflicts involve perceived threats to our well-being and survival, they stay with us until we face and resolve them.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways of managing and responding to conflict.

An unhealthy response to conflict occurs when you don’t think about the perspective of the other person or what they are going through. It’s an inability to compromise or see the other person’s side. You may have explosive, angry, and hurtful reactions, or engage in name calling. Not wanting to engage in or avoiding conflict because it’s seen as a bad things is also an unhealthy view of conflict.

Healthy responses to conflict are recognizing  and being aware of the issues that matter to the other person. You think about what would cause someone to act they way they are. Reactions are calm, non-defensive, and respectful. One may take a deep breath and acknowledge that there are some frustrating feelings. Resolving conflict in a healthy way means being willing to forgive and forget, and to move past the conflict without holding a grudge. It’s healthy to believe that conflict can help people work through differences and come together.

In reality, conflict is an opportunity for growth. When you’re able to resolve conflict in a relationship, it builds trust. You can feel secure knowing your relationship can survive challenges and disagreements. Resolving conflict successfully requires being comfortable with your emotions as well as being able to manage them in times of stress.

Successful working groups typically experience four stages of development, one of which is conflict. The first stage is “Forming”. During this stage the group comes together and begins getting to know one another. In the next stage, “Norming”, groups identify behavior that is acceptable including how they communicate and working styles. The next stage that needs to be encountered to strengthen the group is “Storming”. This is where the conflict occurs. If a group wants to be successful, they need to successfully resolve the conflict.  During this stage groups overcome conflict to solve a problem. If they are able to do so, they move to the next stage which is “Performing”. At this point the group has an improved ability to communicate around conflict and should be more secure knowing that differences can be discussed.

The ability to successfully resolve conflict depends on your ability to manage stress quickly while remaining alert and calm. By staying calm, you can accurately read and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication. You also need to be able to control your emotions and behavior. When you’re in control of your emotions, you can communicate your needs without being  threatening, frightening, or hurtful towards others.

It’s important to pay attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of others. It’s also important to be aware of and respectful of differences. By avoiding disrespectful words and actions, you can almost always resolve a problem faster.

FIRST CONFLICT RESOLUTION SKILL: QUICK STRESS RELIEF

Stress interferes with the ability to resolve conflict by limiting your ability to accurately read another person's nonverbal communication, hear what someone is really saying, be aware of your own feelings, be in touch with your deep-rooted needs, and communicate your needs clearly.

By reducing your stress levels you’ll be better able to focus on being objective. Learning to identify your physiological response to stress can help you better identify when you're stressed so you can quickly reduce it.  There are three general responses. If you have an overexcited stress response you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress. You will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down. If you have an under excited stress response you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress. You will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system. If you have a frozen stress response (both overexcited and under excited) you tend to freeze—speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others. Your challenge is to identify stress relief activities that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system.

Try to counteract stressful situations by taking deep breaths. You can also find someone whose judgment you trust who can listen and provide counsel.

If you don't have someone close at hand to talk to, the best way to rapidly relieve stress is through the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Movement can also help to reduce stress. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing to you.

Visual people may find that they can reduce stress by looking at a cherished photo or a favorite memento. Another alternative may be to enjoy the beauty of nature by spending time in a garden, at the beach, at a park, or in your own backyard. If changing location is not feasible visual people can try closing their eyes and picturing a situation or place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.

Sound can be a stress reducer for those that respond to sound and noise/music lovers. Singing or humming a favorite tune or listening to uplifting music may have a calming affect. Another options is to tune in to the soundtrack of nature (Real or Virtual) —crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, or birds singing.

Using smells to reduce stress can be helpful if you tend to zone out or freeze when stressed. Surround yourself with smells that are energizing and invigorating. If you tend to become overly agitated under stress, look for scents that are comforting and calming. You can incorporate smells by lighting a scented candle or burning some incense or sage, lying down in sheets scented with lavender, smelling the roses—or another type of flower, enjoying the clean, fresh air in the great outdoors, or spritzing on your favorite scent.

During stressful situations our sense of taste can aid us in feeling calm and reducing some of the noticeable effects of stress. Treats can be savored slowly and in moderation. Try chewing on a piece of sugarless gum or indulging in a small piece of dark chocolate. You could also sip a steaming cup of coffee or tea or a refreshing cold drink, eat a ripe piece of fruit, or enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack such as celery, carrots, or trail mix.

You can use the sense of touch to focus on things that feel relaxing and renewing. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket, pet a dog or cat, hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento), soak in a hot bath, give yourself a hand or neck massage, or wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.

If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful. Anything that engages the muscles or gets you up and active can work. Try running in place or jumping up and down. Dance around, stretch or roll your head in circles, go for a short walk, or squeeze a rubbery stress ball.

SECOND CONFLICT RESOLUTION SKILL: EMOTIONAL AWARENESS

Emotional awareness is a key factor in resolving conflict because it is the awareness of your moment-to-moment emotional experience. If you’re aware of how you’re feeling you can address it and communicate your needs effectively as you resolve disagreements. The ability to manage all of your feelings appropriately is the basis of a communication process that can resolve conflict.

Emotional awareness helps you understand what is really troubling other people as well as understand yourself to know what is really troubling you. This awareness can help you find ways to stay motivated until the conflict is resolved. Emotional awareness can help you communicate clearly and effectively which can be useful as you try to help people remain objective during conflict.

People experience emotions in a variety of ways. Some people can sense the fluidity in their feelings encountering one emotion after another as they experience changes from moment to moment. Sometimes emotions are accompanied by physical sensations that are experienced in places like the stomach or chest. Sometimes feelings and emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and joy are communicated to others through subtle facial expressions. Feelings that are really intense may be strong enough to capture both your attention and that of others. It’s important to be aware of your emotions and to know if they are factoring into your decision–making and ability to remain objective.

There are different stages of emotional awareness. First you become aware that a feeling is present. You may realize that you are tapping your feet, taking short breaths, or clenching an object in your hand and then notice the feeling that is present. Once you are aware of the feeling the next stage is to acknowledging the feeling whether it is positive or negative. Next you identify the feeling. Identifying the emotion when feeling negative can help when trying to problem solve or generate solutions. Identifying the feeling can take away the fear of the emotion, engage the cognitive part of our brain and help you feel more in control and empowered. Once you’ve identified the feeling, you accept the feeling that you are experiencing in the present moment and then reflect on the feeling

During conflict you can stay motivated to find a solution by redirecting negative statements towards the positive and using them as opportunities to find solutions. A statement like “It will never work.” can be made positive by asking the question “What would it take to make it work?”. If someone says “I won’t” ask “What would make you willing?”. If someone declares a task to be “Impossible” ask “What would make it possible?”.

PAYING ATTENTION TO THE EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF OTHERS

People's behaviour occurs for a reason. They are looking for ways to belong, feel significant, and self-protect. When people perceive a threat to their self-esteem, a downward spiral can begin. People can engage in counter-productive behaviours in the faulty belief that this will gain them a place of belonging and significance. How we respond to their difficult behaviours can determine how entrenched these become. When dealing with a downward spiral the secret is to break out of the spiral by supporting their real needs without supporting their destructive faulty beliefs.

People need to feel like they belong. Someone may perceive being noticed as “belonging” and may engage in attention seeking behaviors. You may give into this initially, however if the attention gets the person to stop, chances are they will resume or use some other type of attention seeking behavior to be noticed. A way to respond, without supporting the repetitive unwanted behavior is to avoid undue attention. Give attention for positive behaviour especially when they are not making a bid for it. Support their real contribution and involvement.

Someone may exert power plays in groups because they feel like they belong when they feel in control of a situation. This can be provoking or threatening to others who may react by fighting aggressively or complying defiantly. A better way to deal with this behavior is to disengage from the struggle. Help them to use power constructively by enlisting their co-operation. Be sure to support their self-worth and autonomy.

Some people seek revenge  and feel significant only if they make others feel hurt like they do. If you feel hurt by them and retaliate they seek further revenge more strongly or with another weapon. A better way to deal with this person is to convince them that you respect their needs and support their need for justice and fairness. Work on building trusting relationships.

Some people take the approach of appearing inadequate to feel safe.  They may feel that they can avoid being hurt if they can convince others not to expect much from them. When dealing with this person they may not appear to make improvements or change situations when needed. If you become overwhelmed and give up on this person they may respond passively, show no improvement, and stay "victim". If you need to work with this person to find a solution encourage any positive attempt, no matter how small. Support how they feel as a starting place for self improvement. Focus on their strengths and provide bite-sized learning experiences they can succeed at.

TOOLS USED TO DEAL WITH CONFLICT

In order to resolve a conflict, there needs to be a range of solutions to choose from. Ideally you’d like to generate a wide range of options. In order to do so you need to clarify the problem to help focus brainstorming and idea generation. When resolving conflict you need to know how to negotiate around differences and select the solution that fits the best.

Clarifying tools can help people find out more information to make sure they understand the problem. Researching can provide more information, quantify the extent of resources and identify constraints. Break the problem into smaller parts to make it more manageable.  It’s also important to identify the desired goal or outcome.

Once the facts are known and the situation is understood, tools can be used to generate potential solutions. There may be the obvious solution to which all parties say "yes". Brainstorming can be used to generate a variety of ideas. It’s important during brainstorming to make sure there is no censoring, no justifying, and no debating. A solution can be agreed upon using consensus to ensure that all parties stand behind the solution. During this process it’s important to be creative and make sure the solution is practical.

Negotiating tools are used to help both parties see where they agree and where they can make concessions as they work towards a solution. Both parties should think about what is easy for the to give up and what another party would like to receive. They may make concessions (ex. give up use of land) or offer up perks (offer a camp bacon). You don’t have to get it right the first time. Try one option and if that doesn’t work try another. It can be helpful to have both parties think about the alternatives and consequences if an agreement can’t be reached.

The solution selected should meet a few basic criteria. It should be built on a win/win approach that is fair and meets many needs of all parties. It should be feasible to implement and solve the problem. In some cases more than one solution will need to be tried before settling on the best one.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROTOCOL

The objective for this protocol is to facilitate open communication on every level of the Firefly organization and to provide guidelines for resolving conflicts between members.

The responsibilities of participants is to maintain confidentiality when dealing with conflict resolution. That means no gossiping! If there is conflict between community members, we urge the individuals involved to first discuss the issues with each other. Issues are best resolved when people deal directly face-to-face. Utilize mediation if open communication is not able to resolve the conflict.

When a team member or a group of team members finds it difficult to work with another member, and have been unable to resolve the problem directly with the individual or within the group, a third-party, such as a co-lead, cluster lead, or other neutral party may be asked to help facilitate a discussion. This may mean the third-party simply encourages or helps arrange a meeting. Or, this could mean that the individuals wish to involve the third-party as a mediator in their meeting.

If you are having a conflict with your team leader and communication or a discussion facilitated by a third hasn’t resolved the conflict you may consider involving a cluster lead or a Board member.

If you are having a conflict with an Board Member then you should approach the Ranger Lead or Safety Cluster Lead and ask for their assistance in mediating the issue.