Conflict and Its Usefulness
by Ann E. Hale, M.A., TEP
There is someone in your training group whom you fear and dislike. You
don't like conflict very much and have not spoken about this. How might
you prepare yourself to address this conflict? An answer suggested by
Ann E. Hale, M.A., TEP
Conflict and its usefulness: an introduction
There is generally acceptance that our physical, intellectual,
spiritual and emotional energies cycle through high and low periods,
having an ebb and a flow which impacts both mood and productivity.
Similarly we also have cycles which impact our interpersonal relations,
moving through harmony and conflict, stillness and intense
ambivalence. Harmony sounds positive and something to strive for,
implying peacefulness and pleasure. Trying to maintain this state
evokes conflict with those forces causing disturbance. And, the
harmonic state, once it becomes static, can be experienced as a bit
boring and lacking in excitement. In order to be in a more
adventurous mood we are presented with situations which pose
challenges and risk. Conflict begins to surface, and requires
both self examination and periods of indecision. To
resist conflict and stay in the harmonic state reduces the
opportunities to engage life fully. Our self esteem requires that
we experience our own courage, and that we accept the
interdependence which is part of belonging, and being connected to
A person who hates conflict, and hides from it, needs to have a success
experience with the positive impact of conflict. What
interferes with this success experience are conflicts which are unruly,
sheer ventilation without regard for the other person, and being
overwhelmed by emotional and physical outbursts without support and
safeguards in place.
Preparation for Conflict
As an individual it helps to write down the resources you believe you have for handling conflict.
As well, you might make a list of the resources you still need.
For example, (1) I am able to weigh the truth of a statement about
me.” (2) “I am willing to ask for time to reply.” (3) “I
know someone who will stand by me during a conflict with another
person.” A group leader may also ask that the entire group
identify the resources the group has for handling conflict. Part of
this discussion may involve stating the norms the group has for ways
people address one another, listening skills, and physicalization. The
group also needs to address if they trust the skill of the facilitator
for maintaining safety and for facilitating an open, forthright
discussion without avoiding the primary concerns.
Identifying worst fears can also help with preparation. Asking
oneself, “what is the worst thing that could happen?”, and then
creating possibilities for handling these worst case scenarios will
help reduce ambivalence.
Warmups to Conflict
(1) Group triangle - The group picks an issue of concern. “Being
late” A triangle is taped on the floor. One side is
positive, one side is negative and one side is neutral. The
group is split into three groups and each person spends a short period
of time on each line with their group, speaking about the positive
nature of being late, the negative response to being late, and the
neutral position about being late. The entire group is facilitated to
role play their position fully and to engage the other
(2) Multiple role reversal - This time two sides are identified.
Each side is allowed to make statements and to engage the other side.
The facilitator calls for a role reversal and the entire side switches
their position. The one by one, a person steps into the middle
and speaks aloud their soliloquy of the way this arguments is impacting
him/her. Anyone who wishes may step to their side and join them
in their position.
(3) Contrived argument - Everyone in the group is in pairs. The
two people are to convince their partner that he or she is the better
person, the more worthy of praise. Then, the argument is
reversed and the two are asked to begin trying to convince their
partner that he/she is the better person, more worthy of praise.
After this has taken place, the partners discuss these short interactions focusing on which
arguments were convincing, which arguments were easier to maintain. The exercise closes by both persons resolving
anything which feels incomplete.
Creating a safe support for conflict within a group
It is important for the well being of a group to have conflicts surface, especially if the
concerns are tying up energy that could be expended on other group
issues. A person who brings a conflict to the attention of the
group is vulnerable, particularly from people who do not want conflict,
or want something else to happen in that moment. A facilitator
will recognize the need to take the pulse of the group and attend to
the issue of readiness. At the same time, the person raising the
concern needs to be supported with acceptance and respect. If the
issue involves someone else who is a group member, whether present or
not, this person may need time to check inside and identify their
feeling and response to being part of another person’s issue.
If the person is not present it may be opportunistic to address the
issue without having to “worry” about their feelings or input; however,
involving the group member directly is preferred. This will give both
persons the opportunity to experience support from the group.
Having to delay, until all parties are present, also sets in place a norm,
that if you miss a group session for some reason, your position in the
group will be protected until your return.
A group will also need to accept that the role of support for a person
engaged in a conflict, is not meant to be experienced by the group
members as “taking sides”. If this seems to be a real fear, then
the role of support can cycle through the group, with each person being
asked to come up and make doubling statements of support for each
person engaged in the conflict. In fact the parties engaged in
the conflict can step out of the spotlight entirely and other group
members can mirror the action, acting “as if” they are the persons
having the conflict. This choice also offers the co-protagonists
role relief and the opportunity to observe the conflict from a more