Identify conflicts and solve them productively for community building

A group can grow in conflicts. Of all types of conflict resolution, however, only very few are productive. Recognizing and acknowledging the feelings, values and interests behind the factual conflict makes it possible to resolve conflicts. The DALLAS method allows a structured approach to conflict resolution.

First of all, conflicts are an essential part of group life. A group will not be able to form a community without conflicts. Different people and opinions come together in the negotiation of goals, values and procedures. Conflicts are therefore inherent in togetherness.

Conflicts can arise for various reasons, for example if communication within the group is disturbed. The more a conflict is not pronounced and the longer it is ignored, the more it charges itself and is influenced by emotions. As unspoken conflicts thus become more intense, it is important to recognize conflicts as they arise in order to address them or eliminate them. Signs of conflict are e.g. impatient togetherness and lack of listening, emotionally charged arguments, suggestions are quickly criticized even before they are presented in their entirety, no agreements, personal accusations, negative evaluations of the contributions of the other group members, the willingness to approach one another is low.

Conflicts are denied, hushed up, played down, suppressed, group members are excluded, a majority in the group forces the minority to agree to their position and thus dominates group activities, alliances are formed, compromises are made or:

The conflict is integrated into the group: The parties to the conflict sit down and discuss the problems, different opinions are introduced and discussed. The conflict and its causes are analysed. The end result is a solution that satisfies everyone. This type of conflict resolution is the most mature and best advances community building.

Before we enter into the possibilities of conflict resolution, we need to consider the “behind” of conflicts: A factual conflict can conceal various interests or needs. The iceberg metaphor helps to understand the background of conflicts: An iceberg is usually only one seventh above the water surface. Much more is hidden below the surface of the water. In conflicts, however, arguments are often argued at the level of the (visible) matter. If constructive conflict resolution is chosen, interests, needs, feelings, values, misunderstandings, etc. must be articulated. These points are below the water surface. Only when the level behind the factual conflict is considered, sustainable solutions become possible in the long term.

A well-known example is: two children fight over an orange. Every kid wants the orange for himself. In a fight, one child gets the orange, the other child gets nothing. In a compromise, the orange is divided and each child receives half an orange. But that may not be enough. Only the question of interest in the orange (“why do you want the orange?”) achieves a solution that fully satisfies the interests of both children. If one child wants to eat an orange and the other one needs the peel to bake Christmas cookies, everyone is helped: one gets the peel to grate and the other the pulp to eat.

So that conflicts do not “break up” a group, there are tried and tested conflict resolution regulations under discussion. The DALLAS method can be helpful:

Defining the problem: Here it is necessary to work out the deviation of the ACTUAL state from the TARGET state. At the end of the definition phase, each group member should be aware of the problem.

Activate: In this phase the group members should evaluate how they assess the difference between ACTUAL and TARGET and how strong their willingness to deal with the problem is. The following questions are central: Which wishes are behind the individual accusations? What are the advantages and disadvantages for those involved when they get involved in the solution? Which common goals can be found?

Possible solutions: Suggestions for solutions have to be worked out, these can be worked out in brainstorming, for example, and should not yet be evaluated.

Evaluate possible solutions and make decisions: When assessing the possible solutions, consideration should be given to what consequences arise and what compromises are required. All those affected should support the decision and benefit from it, and no one should lose.

Execute and decide: An action plan defines who does what, when, with whom and how.

Reassess the situation: After some time, the changes are to be evaluated by working out an ACTUAL-TARGET comparison. If new problems have arisen, they should be discussed. If the situation has improved significantly, this should be reported positively to everyone.


Further information

If you want to continue reading “Solving conflicts in groups”, please follow this link

If a conflict is already severely hardened and escalates, it can also be expedient to call in external helpers or to carry out mediation.