Conflict Management

Conflict can also be an opportunity for change.”

Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution

In the Third Sector, passion is a big player. The determined energy that passion generates gets results – as is demonstrated day in and day out through the essential work the Third Sector provides across Argyll and Bute. And, with passion comes occasional frustration – approaches may clash, big personalities may dominate, opinions may be lost in the mix.

Living in rural areas also brings a unique dimension; paths cross and roles change – perhaps the GP is a member of the Choir – or the Cashier in the Co-op is chair of a Board. Nurturing dignified relationships contributes to the wellbeing of the community at large – and that sometimes involves resolving conflict.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

The conflict dragon inevitably lurks so there’s a chance that it will appear from time to time. Take a breath – you have a plan!

Conflict Resolution Statement

Establishing an official Conflict Resolution Statement means that, when tensions are high, there is an established plan ready to deal with the problem and then swiftly refocus the energy back into the work of the organisation. If everyone (including the Board and Volunteers) sign up from the get-go, then expectations of conduct are set. It may even be that the result of any Conflict is positive – with the emergence of new ideas and stronger working relationships.

Here is an example of a possible Conflict Resolution Statement:

(This organisation) strives to work positively with an ethos of encouraging contributions and open-minded listening from all Employees / Volunteers / Board Members. If conflict should arise, we neither ignore the problem, nor take a defensive stance. Instead, we seek an open dialogue as quickly as possible, preferably with at least one other objective representative present.

During such dialogue we agree to:

  • be inquisitive giving equal time and respect to speaking and listening
  • have the courage to maintain an engaging and curious dialogue
  • find an agreeable resolution in order to move forward
  • see the original conflict as a knot. Once untied, it is gone.

So how does the knot get untied?

Finding a mediation space that is calm, neutral, comfortable and free from interruption is important. Keep things formal to prevent escalation; but not alienating – all parties should be able to express themselves naturally.

As Mediator, establish and maintain a pace and volume that encourages composed balance.
Modern Parliaments are set up in a round/horseshoe shape to discourage confrontation. Think about the position of furniture and temperature of the room in order to prevent further irritation during the resolution process. Provide water.

The following suggestion for an in-house methodology comes from the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution.

In order to reach the heart of a conflict, approach it from the perspective of facts, feelings, needs and possible action.


This is what has happened, or to be more precise; this is the interpretation of one party regarding what happened. When in an escalated conflict one tends to confuse facts, opinions, prejudices and feelings. It is important to separate these in order to gain some perspective. It is a difficult exercise but of upmost importance. Ask the parties (one at a time) to, as precisely as possible, recount: – What happened? – Who did what and when?


Feelings are important because of their existence; everyone has feelings. Feelings play a vital role in conflicts and if they are not dealt with appropriately they can obstruct the process of conflict resolution. To express, acknowledge and accept the feelings the incident or issue prompted can give valuable insight into the needs that have not been met. All parties must have equal time / space to speak – and listen.


Needs are pivotal; the needs that have not been met or have been violated are the cause of the feelings one is having. These needs include the need to be accepted, to be trusted, the need for respect, recognition and many more. When one knows what needs have been violated it is possible to examine what needs to be done to recognise or fulfil those needs, and thus resolve the conflict.


When the relevant needs have been identified it is time for positive actions. These actions could be concrete suggestions for future interaction between parties in a conflict – or – a strategy for one party in a conflict that ensures their needs are met in the future.

The full document by the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution suggests ways to ‘map the conflict’ and also details how the Mediator might best manage the process while working through the above methodology.

The role of Management is key and it is worth ensuring that Conflict Resolution training is included in the professional development of staff – and willing Board Members. And remember, the conflict might arise with a Board Member / Manager too so policies must take this into account.

Consider establishing a group of trusted and respected local contacts that would be willing to be called upon should an objective perspective ever be required. This could be a Trade Union rep or local official such as a Teacher or Police Officer.

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