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Facilitators must understand and manage conflict. We must first understand our own internal conflict so that we are prepared to serve others. We should see our conflict response as both challenge and opportunity.

Don’t Run from Internal Conflict

Internal conflict is fear and all people have fears. However, when we allow these fears to control us, we lose our ability to perform. Therefore, the first step is to understand our fears. Hence, once we do, then we can control them and begin to manage conflict. Fears never go away—you simply learn to control fears. Below are some typical facilitator fears:

Fly In Formation

Once you identify your personal fears, you can find ways to make them work to your advantage. Consequently, it gives you an edge. Remember that the butterflies in your stomach will always be there. Therefore, you don’t want to remove them. You want to teach them to fly in formation.

External Conflict

Conflict in your group is natural and not necessarily bad when properly managed. Hence, you must channel conflict into productivity. Managed well, conflict leads to expanded information exchange, surfaced rationales, more options, and better group decisions that enable change. Managed poorly, conflict destroys. Properly managed, conflict leads to positive transformation. If left festering in the hallways, conflict leads to chaos.

Conflict provides one of the best reasons for justifying the time and expense of a face-to-face meeting because it cannot be properly resolved with mail, attachments, and messaging. Society places negative values on conflict at home and at school. Therefore, we are not taught collaborative problem solving skills. We will look at the likely external sources of conflict, barriers you will encounter, and responses that are proven effective.

6 Potent Ways to Facilitate Conflict Response and Manage Conflict

Conflict Response

Recognizing Conflict

Recognize that conflict exists particularly when you sense resistance from the group. Therefore, if your intuition tells you that something is not right, you would be wise to listen to the symptoms:

Sources of Conflict

Primary sources of conflict in a typical workshop include the following. However, keep in mind that the two leading indicators are tenure (ie, how long somebody has been around) and when their jobs, titles, or reporting situation is at risk or being changed:

  • Competition—feeling out of control or the need to control
  • Fears—participant fears as well as facilitator fears
  • Habits—used to disagreeing or arguing, cultural
  • Listening filters—age, background
  • Misinformation—rumors, especially with change
  • Participants’ problems—out of control, unable to excel or bond
  • Poorly defined objectives—misunderstanding of expectations
  • Semantics—understanding of words and intent
  • Situations—reengineering, reorganizations, automating jobs
  • Thinking styles—vertical/ horizontal
  • Ways participants view others—biases, prejudices


Consequently, the following barriers inhibit your ability to manage conflict:

  • Ability or willingness to listen—yours and theirs
  • Fears—yours and theirs
  • Group norms—culture such as “we don’t discuss that here”
  • Image—inability to save face
  • Lack of skill—a weak facilitator
  • Learned responses—our past is hard to unlearn
  • Time—consensus is seldom achieved quickly
  • Vulnerability—real or perceived threats                                                                

Your Responses

How do you respond to manage conflict? To effectively facilitate a conflict situation, you must keep conflict constructive and . . .

  1. Understand anger—dealing with yours and theirs.
  2. Know how to communicate acceptance—to promote open communications.
  3. Understand consensus—it is not compromise.
  4. Prepare properly—know if it is coming.
  5. Build a tool kit (see MG RUSH Facilitative Leadership Tools for immediate help and develop a hip pocket set of tools in preparation for the unexpected)—build teams and diffuse problems.
  6. Challenge—when people raise objectives, discover the cause of the objection. With active listening and proper leadership, the objection can be converted into criterion. What causes the objection and what is the unit of measurement of the cause?


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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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 Facilitation Best Practices 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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