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communication and conflict management
Rosa de la Vega and Gabrielle Watson
July 25, 2006
needs to address conflicts and tensions as they emerge, helping
coalition members to voice concerns or frustration, and to identify
creative solutions drawn from multiple perspectives.
for open discussion is critical but can be difficult when members
feel it's risky to speak up or when anger, distrust, or other
emotions are involved. Leadership can create and strengthen an open
environment in a number of ways:
example that all voices should be heard, Be aware of some members
speaking more than others and what power dynamics among members
may be involved. For example, members who are from groups with less
traditional power - such as women, minorities, or representatives
of smaller organisations - may find it difficult to speak up. Help
the group develop and observe ground rules that prevent anyone from
dominating discussions and encourage quieter members to participate.
space." That is, a comfortable environment where members
feel listened to when they voice concerns. The avenues for voicing
concerns can range from one-on-one conversations or anonymous feedback
to caucuses or full-group discussion. For tensions that involve
the full group, be sure to hear from everyone.
for conflict management and problem solving. It only takes
one person to serve as a "bridge builder" and to help
resolve conflict. Consult with members individually or carve out
time during a coalition meeting. Focus on the key elements of mediating
common ground. Use this to focus the discussion as you address
differences. Also, focus on the issue rather than the personalities
involved in the conflict.
- Ask questions
to seek more information to manage the conflict. Make sure everyone
has the chance to speak. Also, share all relevant information.
Be specific. Use concrete examples.
the role of emotions. Do they help highlight critical issues?
Or do they cloud judgement and the ability to problem solve? If
necessary, allow emotions to cool down before problem solving.
Give each person the chance to express their concerns without
being challenged or corrected. Also, keep in mind that some strong
emotions that are expressed may be unrelated to the conflict.
Try not to take others' outbursts personally.
and demonstrate mutual respect for each other. Don't personalise
question someone else's motives or place blame.
act defensively if you disagree with someone. Ask questions to
better understand others' perspectives, feelings, and ideas.
to get to the heart of the matter and to draw out ideas for
possible solutions. For example:
Focus on the speaker and demonstrate that you are listening and
understand. Body language, eye contact, tone of voice, and the questions
you ask all demonstrate that you are listening - rather than distracted,
disinterested, or already decided on the matter.
Avoid blocks to listening, such as:
without allowing someone else to speak.
on your opinion before someone finishes speaking or you've
heard from more than one person.
a response in your head while the other person continues to speak.
conflict by agreeing with anything the speaker says.
- Trying to
"win" the argument rather than focusing on common
ground and possible solutions.
- Being afraid
to be wrong or assuming you're right.
- (In some
contexts) Heated emotions.
of Key Points
is working with individuals and groups who share a common focus
or interest. The purpose may range from sharing information to taking
joint action. While the distinctions are fluid and change over time,
it can be helpful to consider informal "networks" at
one end of the spectrum and more formal "coalitions"
at the other. Whatever their name or structure, collaborative relationships
are an essential ingredient in any advocacy effort.
If you are wary
of working in a coalition without a compelling reason, then it probably
isn't worth the investment of time, energy, and other resources.
However, you do have alternatives, such as sharing information in
an informal network or working together on a single event or short-term
Based on the
experiences of the Advocacy Institute's facilitators and alumni,
a number of ingredients are critical if you do choose to enter a
to experiment and to learn from mistakes.
and diverse leadership.
membership and broad outreach.
- Basic coalition
relationships among members.
communication and conflict management.
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