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How to manage conflict in a workshop or meeting

How to manage conflict in a workshop or meeting

You’ve stepped into the meeting room, ready for anything. You’ve got your tactics and patter down. 

What could go wrong?

Well, lots of things (that’s another story…) - but conflict in your meeting? Surely not!

And yet, it does happen. In fact, if you get enough passionate people in a room to talk about problems and make decisions, it’s almost inevitable. 

As with most things in life, it’s how you handle it that counts. If you’re prepared for it, you can turn a bit of conflict into something more purposeful. Here’s how…

Prepare for conflict in meetings

Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes. Our initial response to conflict is often to: 

Freeze…

… and hope that it goes away. 

That works out in ‘the wild’, but it is less successful in an enclosed space you’ve got booked for the next 37 minutes. So let’s rewind and get prepared.

While you plan for the meeting, take some time to plan for conflict, too. First, that freeze response. You know it’s coming, so make a mental note to spend that moment of stillness thinking about the following question:

What is the common ground between the two parties?

Presumably, these people are in the room because they work together or are both on a project. They both want to see it succeed (if not, that’s a slightly different issue…). So, you’ve got this thought in your head, and now it’s time to speak.

Give both parties space to be heard

Often, the reason behind conflict in meetings is that the instigators are not feeling heard. They feel that their expertise or experience is being dismissed.

This is where that ten-minute buffer you built into your schedule comes in handy.

Ask each party in turn to explain what they think, particularly through the lens of their expertise/experience. If they try to explain what the other person thinks, politely interrupt and bring it back to the person’s own experience.

Write down the salient points. For example:

  • Person B has seen a new approach implemented in a previous role and believes it’s absolutely the best way to go.
  • Person A: has seen the budget through from the start of the project, and is aware that Person B’s suggestions would never get approved.

Ah - so you see, they don’t actually disagree.

Perhaps the new approach is the best way to go.

The disagreement is because one person is looking at ‘shoulds’, and adopting an idealistic view. The other is being pragmatic and efficient. Both of these are good things.

So you have heard both parties, and hopefully diffused some of the tension. What next?

Plan when/how to resolve the issue 

In some cases, you may be able to resolve the issue immediately. 

If not, you’ll want to avoid any lengthy discussions eating into your schedule. Suggest that you’ll give it some thought and organise a problem-solving session with the interested parties. 

That way, both parties feel heard and you have put a solution to the immediate issue (conflict in your meeting) on the table, so everyone can move on. The instigators may also be a little less disagreeable as they know they will have to face each other again soon!

Prevent future conflict in meetings

There won’t always be a lesson to learn when conflict breaks out in your meeting. But take a moment to reflect and see what you can come up with. 

Did you give everyone enough time to introduce themselves (including why they are in the room and what their area of expertise is)? Did you make any assumptions that turned out to be inaccurate? Would agreeing on some Session principles at the start of the meeting helped?

In many cases, the answer will be ‘no’ - it was just a personality clash or misunderstanding, and those will happen. But at least next time it happens in your meeting, you’ll know exactly what to do.

 

Read next…

Find yourself worrying about conflict in meetings often? Well, perhaps you could try running your next meeting in silence (we’re joking… kind of). But you could take a look at our tips for running a workshop if you’re anxious, introverted or just plain inexperienced.

 


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