In the past three years I’ve been increasingly engaged in working with groups, both as a therapist and as a supervisor. Conflicts in groups are inevitable and as a group leader you must be prepared to face them. In this post I suggest twelve basic rules that will help you navigate through a group conflict, especially in clinical settings (in group therapy, therapeutic communities etc).
The list is not exhaustive, so you may consult other sources for additional guidelines.
Don’t sweep conflicts under the carpet. Sooner or later the whole group will stumble on them.
Real conflicts are caused by incompatibility of interests (status, money, power etc.). Such conflicts cannot be resolved by psychological means, so don’t try.
Attempts at resolving a conflict of interests by psychological means may be counter-productive, as they may lead to blurring its background, instead of exposing it. Your role in such conflicts is limited to making the conflicting interests clear and explicit. This may pave the way to negotiations between the parties involved.
Quasi-conflicts may be defined as an abruption of workable communication in the presence of strong emotions. Majority of conflicts in a therapeutic group are quasi-conflicts. The primary goal in solving quasi-conflicts is the restoring of workable communication between all involved parties.
The eruption of a quasi-conflict is in itself a proof that involved parties are unable to workably communicate without external mediation. So, don’t recommend them to “talk to each other”. If they could, they would.
Mediation in a quasi-conflict consists of coaching the involved group members in assertive communication (learn these skills!), until mutual assertive communication between them is fully restored/established.
Sometimes emotions are so intense that restoring communication is impossible without regulating emotions. Validate this experience in all members and postpone coaching until all parties are ready for your mediation.
Never coach in a conflict, in which you are a party.
Don’t allow any party in a conflict to “coach” the counterparty. It is a nasty, manipulative strategy of communication that fuels the conflict and should be blocked by you.
Give all parts equal space to articulate their opinions/needs.
Never take parts, neither directly, nor indirectly (for example by explicitly sharing the point of view of one of the involved parties).
Do not coerce people to resolve conflicts for the sake of a pleasant atmosphere in group. A genuine “lets agree to disagree” attitude is always better than false consensus.
Never try to influence the behavior of others by shaming them publicly. If you catch yourself shaming one or more group members, it means that you’re not able to lead the group any longer. Take pause and talk to your supervisors or peers.
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