Dealing with Conflict (Rick Curtis)

This material is the Group Development and Leadership Chapter from the Outdoor Action Program Leader's Manual written by Rick Curtis, Director, Outdoor Action Program. It may be freely distributed for nonprofit educational use. However, if included in publications, written or electronic, attributions must be made to the author. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright © 1995 Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

Conflict can always arise in group settings. Conflict occurs when there are differences in:

*    Needs
*    Perceptions
*    Goals
*    Experience
*    Values

These differences can be between individuals or between sub-groups within the group. Many times the conflict is due to lack of communication between people. If people understand the needs, values, perceptions, etc. of others in the group, then conflict can often be avoided. This is why one of the important roles of the leaders is to set the tome of the trip and introduce the basic goals, norms and values (see Group Development above). This gives all of the participants a common understanding of what is expected and can help prevent conflict. There are two major goals you must take into account when dealing with conflict situations:

*    Achieving personal goals (task orientation)
*    Keeping good relationships with the other persons (relationship orientation).

These two issues may run up against one another. How you deal with balancing these two goals is important.

==Dealing with Conflict==

When faced with an interpersonal conflict, here are some of the techniques to use to help resolve or mediate the conflict.

#Compensation - ask yourself if the behavior you are seeing is compensation for something else. Try to identify the root issue and deal with that.
#Accept the person but you don't have to accept the behavior.
#Quote OA Policies when necessary. This can take the "burden" off you as the leader. Saying, "this is OA policy and I am required to follow it as the individual responsible for leading this trip." This can displace participant frustration from the leader to the OA Program Director.
#Quickly correct inappropriate language or other problems. Don't let bad patterns get started and supported in the group.
#Know how much to push.
#It is OK for leaders to use their authority to set standards. You can do this in a problem situation by letting others know that they are not comfortable with certain actions. Example, "I'm not comfortable with people doing unsupervised climbing so don't do it."

==Dealing with Problems==

Problems can often be divided into personality related or physically related (injury, environment). Some possible situations are given below.

1.    Correcting Group Action/Decision
*    Is there a safety consideration?
*    Is the decision necessary to correct?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, the decision must be changed, in doing so:
*    Act quickly to avoid safety problems.
*    Be subtle in transmitting information. It may be just to one participant and not involve the rest of the group.
*    Maintain the worth of all group members and their input even though you must alter the decision.
2.    When dealing with someone having difficulty with a challenge:
*    Move the situation to focus on something outside the person.
*    Break it into discrete, do-able parts.
*    Refocus the persons on a level of challenge appropriate to them.

3.    If a person is creating a problem it is essential to accept the person and let them know they are still important, but you do not have to accept the behavior. Make it clear that the problematic behavior cannot continue.

4.    Feeling of lack of control leading to fear can be one of the greatest motivations for negative behavior. If someone is behaving negatively, they may be compensating and trying to create a sense of self-empowerment and control. When you see negative behavior ask yourself what needs for that person are not being met that may be resulting in negative, compensating behavior.

5.    In dealing with problems try to turn the problem into a solution - flip it 180 degrees. "Your disability is your opportunity." - Kurt Hahn

Example: Sarah is constantly hiking ahead of the group. She is in good shape and out distances everyone else. She thinks the group is too slow and everyone should catch up with her. Let her know that the challenge for some other is just hiking. She doesn't have that challenge. Instead her challenge is to slow her pace down and stay back with the others using her strength to help the others. You have flipped a problem into a solution.

==Dealing with Someone who is Out of Control==

Sometimes you may get into a situation where the other person is really having difficulty and their behavior is getting out of control, what is often known as an "in your face" situation. Here are some techniques you can use to settle the situation out.

*    Recognize from early on when you are in an "in your face" situation or when things are escalating in that direction
*    Don't just enter a conversation expecting your own outcomes. Recognize what the other person's outcomes may be. Not being sensitive to the other person's needs can often escalate things into "in your face."
*    Know when to put off a conversation until another time. Sometimes emotions are running too high to have a productive conversation.
*    Know when the discussion needs to be private. Other times you may want corroboration from your co-leader that can't come with a private discussion.
*    Don't interrupt people. If someone is out of control, interruption probably won't get them back in control. Best to let them have their say completely and then comment if it seems appropriate.
*    Give up being invested in making your own point. If things are out of control, you don't want to feed the fire by trying to get your own point across. Let it be, at least til later. Spend your energies trying to reduce the anxiety. After things have calmed down, have another discussion if necessary to get back to your points.
*    Go into active listening mode. Rephrase the person's comments so they know you have heard them. Read between the lines and ask yourself what is going on with this person that is motivating them to act this way. Remember compensating behaviors. If appropriate, you can tell them you disagree with their points and list your reasons.
*    As you rephrase the person's statements, be prepared to apologize if your find that they have interpreted you in an objectionable way. "It sounds as if you are frustrated with my telling you that you can't hike by yourself. I apologize if that offends you, however, it is the standard OA policy that the group should stay together for safety reasons."
*    Don't raise your voice or change your physical presence. Stay cool and collected. Changes indicating your anxiety will only raise the level of tension.
*    Monitor your tension level. Be prepared to clamp down on it. Take a psychological "deep breath" and chill. This process may need to go on while the other person is talking.

==Problem Situations==

The following are some common personalities and situations that may appear on an OA trip. It is useful to think about how you would respond to the needs of this person and perhaps to the needs of the group.

1.    Group comes to a trail junction, hiking either route is possible. Half of the group wants to head down to the river while the other half wants to head up to the ridge. People start to argue about choice.

2.    One of the participants, John, has been hiking 1/4 mile ahead of the group all day. When you ask him to slow up and hike with the group he says: you all should catch up with me.

3.    Tom, one of the group members has been having trouble hiking since the first day of the trip. He has blisters from his new boots. He has to stop frequently to rest. At one stop he says he wants to quit and leave. He's sick of holding everyone up.

4.    It's been raining since early morning. The trail has been rocky and the wet rocks have been slippery making walking treacherous. Everyone is cold and damp and frustrated. No one is saying anything. The planned campsite is still 2 miles away.

5.    Suzie always seems to hang out by herself. She doesn't say much during the day hiking. In the evening when the group is playing games and getting camp set up, Suzie goes off by himself.

6.    Sam and Jill are the two OA leaders. Sam feels that Jill is be too active in the group always telling the participants what to do: put the tarp over there, the stove there, Jill always cooks dinner, etc. Sam tried to tell Jill to back off a bit. She tells him that she's lead more trips than he has and she knows what she's doing. Sam has stopped trying to change the situation.

7.    Eric and Betty have signed on to the trip as boyfriend and girlfriend. They spend all their time hiking together. When the group comes into camp they wander off by themselves. Several of the group members are grumbling that they don't help out with camp chores.

8.    The group has been canoeing down a flat stretch of the Delaware. Greg and Bill have been acting pretty wild all day. The group pulls into a campsite above the first rapid of the trip. While everyone is getting into dry clothes and setting up camp, Greg and Bill slip off and paddle down through the rapid. The leaders hear them laughing and yelling after the canoe swamps.

9.    Dave is a participant on a Freshmen Trip. He's been backpacking before and brought all his own equipment. He acts the part of the tough outdoorsman all the time. Putting down people who are having trouble carrying their weight or hiking up steep grades. The other members of the group are getting pissed off at him and generally feel that he is a jerk.

10.    You are the leader on a backpacking trip. You have set up camp early and everyone is hanging out on their own before dinner. You are coming back through the woods after taking a dump and you smell marijuana. As you peer through the trees you see two of your group smoking.

11.    Joe and Sara are leading a backpacking trip with 6 guys and 5 girls. The guys tend to hang out together and are pretty crazy, a little immature. The women don't really want to have much to do with the guys and stay together.

12.    The group has pulled into camp after a long day of hiking. There's 1/2 hour of daylight left. Steve, a participant, tells Julie (another participant) that he is going to head up the hill to catch the view before sunset. An hour later everyone is gathering at the stoves to start dinner. One of the leaders, Lisa, asks where Steve is. No one has seen him since Julie did. It is now dark.

13.    The group has been hiking along a rocky section of the AT. Alice steps into a pothole and falls over. She immediately starts screaming that her ankle is broken. The group stops and while the leaders attend to Alice the rest of the group shuffles around nervously anxious about Alice and unsure what to do.

[Category:Group Dynamics and Activities]