There is no instructional class in the world that will teach you how to facilitate a resolution to all meeting conflict.  Sometimes, people or parties refuse to agree simply because they do not like each other.  Fortunately you can rely on a three-step method that helps manage meeting conflict and secure consensus that is repeatable and effective:

Meeting Conflict is an Opportunity to Make Everyone Stronger

Meeting Conflict is an Opportunity to Make Everyone Stronger

  1. Active Listening
  2. Appeal to Objectives
  3. Document and Escalate

Active Listening

Nearly all office professionals have been exposed to the concept of active listening, distinguished from passive listening because it demands that the listener provide reflection and confirmation of what the speaker said.  Our own experience has shown that it is equally, if not more, important to reflect WHY the statement is justified.  Frequently understanding WHY requires additional challenge and reflection.  Especially in group settings and when meeting conflict is likely, participants may hear what was said but they need to understand why, and under what conditions the claim remains valid.

Therefore, challenging the WHY behind the WHAT becomes critical and a solid facilitator can challenge effectively with one word—“Because?”  Consensus is not built at the symptomatic level, rather at the causal level.  Getting everyone to understand under what conditions certain claims may be valid can ease some meeting conflict.  Sometimes people are in violent agreement with each other and are doing a poor job of listening.  A good facilitator provides robust reflection, not only what was said but under what conditions it may hold true.

Appeal to Objectives

Sometimes people understand each other and yet continue to disagree.  Many arguments like this are about future conditions that cannot be proved one way or another.  Learn to appeal to the objectives of the project or initiative your meeting supports to resolve meeting conflict.  If needed, advance further and appeal to the organizational values, as to which argument better harmonizes.  In some cultures for example, safety is critical, and if one option can be viewed as ‘riskier’, it will likely be discounted.  Finally, consider looking at the argument from the perspective of the executive sponsors or even the enterprise.  If the CEO was in the meeting, what would they say, and more importantly, WHY?

Appealing to objectives will reconcile some meeting conflict, but not all of it.  Use our holarchy for visual illustration of harmonizing objectives (available as a poster at What do you, as the facilitator, do if appealing to objectives is not effective?

Document and Escalate

Carefully and fully document both arguments with supporting claims, evidence, and examples.  Take this off-line, back to the executive sponsor and explain the method followed above.  Tell them the group has reached an impasse and needs their help.  Ask them to decide, and more importantly, share their rationale so that the BECAUSE can be brought back to meeting members to make them more effective in future decision-making situations.

Executives by the way will typically go back and Appeal to Objectives, asking questions like:

  • Why did we approve this project or initiative?
  • What were we trying to accomplish?
  • How does this initiative serve as a foundation for our strategy and future plans?

Typically, they will have better insight than team members because they are more intimate with future plans, shaping curves, and transitional and transformational efforts underway to ensure that your organization reaches its vision.  When they share that understanding with you and your group, you are empowered to make higher quality decisions in future meetings.

To help you access our in-house resources, (e.g., annotated agendas and templates used in our FAST Professional Facilitation Training) go to the Facilitation Training Store For a nominal fee, you can now access some our favorite tools, including:

▪    PPT Break Timers for $3.99

▪    Quick, five to ten-minute video lessons on critical topics for $5.99

▪    White papers with additional methodology and team-based meeting support for only $0.99

▪    Holarchy Poster for conference rooms to help resolve arguments

Also consider the book “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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