The Empowerment Pyramid

As the leader or a member of the group, one can take several courses of action to mediate a group conflict. First, the leader or facilitating member can help each party to the conflict communicate their version of the conflict in a systematic manner. In this way, other members of the group can assist in managing or even resolving the conflict. Second, the leader or other members of the group can call on a third person in the group to mediate between the two parties. This assumes that the third party is neutral, respected by both parties, and open to this difficult role. Third, the leader or other group members can identify the person in the group with the lowest stake in the outcome of the issue and ask this person‘s opinion. This is a dangerous step to take in that this person may suddenly and inappropriately take on the burden of the conflict. As a last recourse, the group may chose to bring in an outsider to consult on the issue or even mediate the conflict.

There is another strategy that can be employed. It is more appreciate in nature. Members of the group can exhibit a little patience and courage. They can exhibit patience by giving each party sufficient air time to present his grievance or perception of the problem. Frequently, conflicts erupt primarily because one or more members of the group have not found space in which to talk and react to other ideas that have been presented. Conversely, the conflict might be based on one member’s overuse of group time. The leader or other members of the group might exhibit courage by testing out group opinion about the excessive use of time by this member of the group: “I think we’ve spent a lot of time on what’s really a minor point. Do you agree?”

Avoiding Conflict
The best way to manage conflict may be by trying to avoid it, through use of appreciative strategies at each stage in the group’s development. While most groups can’t avoid the storming stage in its development, the group can ensure that this stage is constructive and relatively short-lived. This rapid and productive movement through the storming stage can be done by avoiding the dominance of personal agenda during meetings and by giving each person ample, but not excessive, time to voice her opinion. It can also be done in an appreciative manner by focusing on those moments when the group is working effectively, and by seeking to replicate these dynamic processes when the group encounters conflict. Let us offer more specifically advice, particularly with regard to preparation for successful and appreciative meetings.

Among an almost infinite number of reasons for the failure of groups to be more effective in addressing conflict, the lack of a clear agenda for meetings must rank among the most prevalent. Virtually, all group process experts who have written about the improvement of meetings and managing conflict begin with an emphasis on explicit, clear agendas. The lack of focus and progress demonstrated by many groups often can be traced to an unclear or even nonexistent agenda. Several steps should be kept in mind when preparing an agenda and several procedures might be considered in the improvement of existing agenda setting processes.

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