Managing Conflict and Disruptive Participants
Managing Disruptive Participants
|Carrying on a Side Conversation||
|Monopolizing the Discussion||
|Challenging Your Knowledge||
from McCain’s second edition of Facilitation Basics, 2015
Dealing with Conflicts, Blocks, & Polarization
- Assume good-faith intentions. When troubles arise, it’s easy to jump into judgment, to suspect that someone is deliberately being disruptive, manipulative, or difficult. But in that own person’s mind, they are a good person, their cause is just, and they are just trying to find a way to get their needs or the group’s needs met. While I have no way to objectively determine whether or not someone is acting in good faith, I find that if I cultivate an inner attitude of assuming that they are, my facilitation goes much better (and so does the rest of my life!). So I choose to assume positive intent, because on a practical level it works—and it feels nice inside too.
- Act as an ally of the person with the concern (while still holding the needs of the rest of the group). Listen closely for the “piece of the truth” in each person’s expression. If one or two people hold a minority position on an issue, they will typically feel a lot of pressure from the rest of the group, whether overtly or unintentionally. As facilitator, you need to walk a fine line between supporting the minority and supporting everyone else. It’s essential for you to stay neutral and avoid jumping on a bandwagon in this case.
- There is almost always an important piece of truth in every person’s expression. If you trust that that’s present, you’ll be a lot more likely to find it. Treat differing opinions as a resource rather than a problem: What’s to be learned from them? Diversity is good—if you can learn to hold the ambiguity for a while, the resulting decision will probably be the stronger for it in the end.
- Ask questions. Your goal is to understand the concern fully, and to explore possibilities. Crafting excellent questions is a whole skill in itself, one that whole workshops are devoted to studying. According to the article “Strategic Questioning: Engaging People’s Best Thinking” (by Brown, Isaacs, Vogt, and Margulies), a powerful question:
- is simple and clear
- is thought-provoking
- generates energy
- focuses inquiry
- surfaces assumptions
- opens new possibilities
- Consider questions such as:
- How do you see this idea?
- What are you afraid might happen?
- Have you had previous experiences where that happened? (And if so, how is this current situation similar to and different from those times?)
- What values of yours does this relate to?
- What group values and purposes is this about for you?
- Is there a way we could monitor that problem?
- What parts of the proposal do you support?
- If you were czar, what would you do?
- Analyze what the origin of the difficulty is. If you don’t slow down to take a closer look, it’s easy to misdiagnose the cause of a problem. For example, if Leslie and Ivan perennially get annoyed at each other during meetings, that might be because:
- they have an unresolved past issue with each other (interpersonal);
- they’ve taken on upholding certain viewpoints in the group (representative gladiators)
- one of them is the most detail-oriented person in the group and the other is the most “rough-and-ready” (archetypal poles);
- the group’s procedures are sufficiently fuzzy that it’s not clear when a decision has actually been made, so one person is ready to move on while another is still raising the issue (process unclarity).
- In the individualistic culture of the United States, the tendency is to assume a dispute is interpersonal in nature, when much of the time it is an expression of group archetypes that is likely to continue regardless of changing individuals. If the group can take responsibility for holding those differences in a more conscious way, that lifts the burden off of individual shoulders.
- Once you’ve discerned what the nature of the difficulty is, you are better positioned to
figure out a good response.
- Engage the people with concerns in helping solve the problem. Part of making healthy group is creating an expectation that people with concerns will be actively engaged in helping solve the problem, rather than just announcing their upset and stopping there. As facilitator, once you understand the concerns that someone is bringing, you can ask them directly what would work for them that they think would also meet the needs others are expressing.