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Introduction

Arguments and differences between you and other people can make you feel unappreciated or alone, especially when it is difficult to see a way forward. Situations such as these can be difficult to deal with, and are often upsetting for everyone.

This conflict resolution toolkit is here to help you:

  • to understand what conflict is;
  • how you can deal with conflict and;
  • to find additional assistance to resolve your conflict

The authors acknowledge the significant contribution to this Toolkit of the ideas and words of Your Guide to Dispute Resolution, a publication of National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC) and Attorney-General's Department, 2012.

Resource development: Audrey Lee, Jay Qin, Lisa Fennis, Steve Lancken and Zeynep Selcuk.

What is conflict?

Conflict is normal. Conflict comes from differences. Different ideas can fit together well but they can also cause conflict.

Sometimes unexpected things happen, or you will have a different view to someone else. When this stops you from being yourself or harms your relationships with the other person, you may have a conflict. Conflicts need to be dealt with early so that the situation does not get worse.

Conflict can happen for various reasons:

Conflict over resources

  • When people have unequal access to resources or different ideas about how resources should be used.Example: Should we use the funding that we have to build a disability ramp or should we use it to hire more people?

Conflict over values or beliefs

  • When people think differently about what is "good" or "bad", "right" or "wrong", "fair" or "unfair".
  • When people feel they are "forced" to accept or even adapt to someone else's values or beliefs.Example: Should the promotion be given to Alex because he/she has the right skills, or Kim because he/she and his/her family need it?

Hostility between people

  • When people develop strong negative emotions towards another. This can break down trust between people.

Power issues: Who has power and who may feel powerless?

  • When people feel power and authority are used unfairly, or when authority lines are unclear, they can get frustrated, confused and angry.

The "what happened" conflict

  • When people have different memories about what happened and each person believes their version is correct, this often leads to a conflict about who is "right".

Bullying, harassment and discrimination

  • When people are treated unfairly or unequally, or feel intimidated, due to reasons such as race, religion, colour, sex, age, or disability.

Can conflict be a good thing?

We all have different personalities, so naturally ideas and opinions vary among people. Sometimes this can create conflict. Conflict can be challenging, but it can also be of benefit, and we can learn from it.

Opportunities that can come from conflict:

  • It can shed light on issues, decisions or actions, and even problems that we did not know existed
  • The different experiences and views we all bring to the table can open up new ways of thinking. We can then gain a better understanding and acceptance of new ideas and each other, which can lead to improvements
  • Addressing and dealing with our own role in a conflict can teach us about ourselves and result in personal growth

Whether conflict is beneficial depends on how it is handled. If it is not sorted out quickly it may lead to a worsening of the situation and this can waste a lot of time and energy.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • Do I need to have this conflict, or can I just "let things lie", that is, intentionally avoid the conflict?
  • How can I deal with a problem in order to stop it from getting bigger?
  • How can I resolve a conflict early to prevent it from becoming more difficult and costly to fix later?
  • Are there opportunities for me to bring about some positive change through the new ideas and views arising from the conflict?
  • Are there solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved?

Most people have learnt destructive ways of handling conflict where they see conflict as win or lose. To be able to resolve conflict positively, it is important to focus on solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved.

  • Develop guidelines for how to respect each other during conflict.
    Those guidelines should include where the discussion should take place, how long the discussions will be, when to take a break, and how to speak respectfully to each other, etc. See also How can I deal with conflict?
  • Do not be afraid to seek help. See also Where can I get help?

To handle conflict better, it helps to practise communication and problem solving skills. You can read more about communication and problem solving skills in How can I deal with conflict?

How can I deal with conflict?

As discussed in Can conflict be a good thing, the best way to deal with conflict is to address it:

  • as soon as you can and before it gets bigger and more difficult to deal with,
  • by taking a shared approach, to work together to solve the problem, and
  • by recognising and listening to the other person's concerns as soon as you see a problem arising, and before it gets out of hand.

These are five skills to help you deal with people and situations that you find difficult:

  • Managing Emotion
    How you feel and how the other person feels plays a big role in determining whether a conversation is "difficult". Be aware of how you manage your emotions and how you deal with the other person's emotions. Read more
  • Listening
    Listening is one of the best ways to understand and deal with conflict. It costs nothing to listen. Hearing is a natural human function. Listening, however, is an active skill that requires effort and practice. The best type of listening is interactive listening.
  • Exploring Solutions Together
    By effectively managing emotions and listening interactively, you are ready to try this with the other person through principled negotiations1.
  • Framing
    Framing is the way in which a problem or issue is presented or described. Framing an issue in a neutral way can help the move towards a calm, positive discussion rather than a heated argument.
  • Confronting
    Sometimes, after trying to resolve a conflict collaboratively without success, it is necessary to confront the other person to let them know that their problematic behaviour is not OK and what will happen if it does not change. Confronting is the last resort.

These helpful skills will help you "lower the temperature" so that you and the other person can talk about what is important, without personal attacks, aggression, withdrawal or getting stuck on "positions".

1Fisher, Roger, William L Ury and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without giving in, (Penguin Books, revised edition, 2011)

Managing Emotion

Sometimes we think that we are expressing our emotions clearly by being emotional. Or sometimes we try to suppress or ignore our emotions, or the emotions of the other person, in an attempt to keep the conversation ‘rational' or ‘professional'. The truth is that it is almost impossible to keep an emotional response a secret.

Emotion is a reaction to something that impacts us. It is helpful to notice emotion and try to find out why you are reacting.

How we feel about the issues discussed plays a role in a difficult conversation, and it is useful to acknowledge our own emotions in a conflict as well as the other person's emotions. Some tips on how to express and discuss emotions effectively include:

  1. Being clear about how you are feeling
    • It can be difficult to figure out how you are really feeling. For example, vulnerability may be disguised as anger, because anger is more comfortable.
  2. Being open with how you are feeling, but being careful with how you describe those feelings
    • Holding back your emotions may make the conflict worse later
    • When discussing your emotions, be mindful of the difference between feeling and judgement. For example, "I feel underappreciated" vs "you are selfish".
  3. Being OK with how you are feeling by remembering that good people can experience negative emotions
    • Emotions are part of human nature. It is OK to feel jealousy or anger. Your response to your emotions is what is important. For example, physically or verbally attacking someone out of anger is not OK. Telling someone you are grumpy because of what they have done is OK.
  4. Keeping in mind that your emotions are just as important as the other person's, and vice versa
    • Acknowledge the other person's emotions, even if you may not agree with that person's point of view. See section Listening.
  5. Keeping in mind that it is difficult to listen when you are experiencing strong emotions
  6. Avoid judging, just share
    • Avoid judging the other person's emotions and also avoid judging your own emotions
    • Share your feelings without talking about blame

Listening

Listening is recognising what someone is saying. It is a sign of respect.

When someone feels that they have been listened to it can calm down the conversation. That is why interactive listening is so important when trying to resolve a disagreement or conflict. Interactive listening is hardest to do when it is most important, that is when the other person is upset.

Interactive listening involves:

  1. Focusing on the speaker
    • Try to understand the other person's focus and feelings. Do not judge.
  2. Showing that you are listening through:
    • Body language
      Such as eye contact, nodding, and having an open body posture rather than a defensive crossed-armed posture.
    • Affirmative sounds
      Such as "uh huh", "okay".
    • Clarifying questions that are open-ended and non-judgemental
      For example, "when you said… what did you mean?" will help you make sense of anything that you might not understand from the speaker's story, and it also demonstrates that you are interested in what the speaker has to say.
    • Paraphrasing or summarising what you have heard at the end with a clarifying question
      For example, "how I understand it is that… is that right?" to make sure that you have understood it right.
  3. Acknowledging the speaker's feelings
    • For example, "it sounds like you were very frustrated when you heard that funding was going to be used on hiring a new staff member, rather than building a new disability ramp, is that right?"
    Tip: Identify the reason why someone was made to feel a certain way. For example, don't simply talk about frustration without identifying why it was frustrating. This helps the acknowledgement be heard without being patronising.
  4. Identifying the speaker's values
    • After showing that you acknowledge the speaker's feelings try and identify the value that they are trying to express. In this example, you might say, "creating a workplace where everyone can be heard and included equally is important to you, isn't it?"

    Tip: check with a clarifying question to make sure you have it right, to avoid sounding patronising.

    These 4 steps will allow the speaker to feel heard and also allow you to better understand them. You don't need to agree or even think that they are right, but it is an approach to ‘lower the temperature' of the conversation and move towards working together on a shared problem.

Exploring solutions together

Principled negotiation is a useful approach to deal with conflicts that focuses on why a person wants a particular outcome.

There are 7 elements to principled negotiations, and they involve:

  1. Understanding and separating interests and positions
    • Positions are usually what a person expresses to be their objective, and can usually only be met in one way.
    • Interests are the needs and desires that explain why a person wants a particular outcome.
    • For example:
      • John wants the promotion (position) because he needs the extra income (interest).
      • Peter wants the promotion (position) because it involves travel to another state where he can see his children who live there (interest).
      • Both want the promotion, but the interests underlying their positions are different. There may even be multiple interests at play.
      • In this scenario, even though only one person can be promoted, there may be ways in which both John's and Peter's interests can be met such that John can get a pay rise and Peter can see his children.
    • *Ask "why" or "why not" to explore interests.
  2. Using objective standards
    • These are standards that everyone would consider to be fair, and could be tested for fairness and used to persuade the other party. For example:
      • Using independent data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to demonstrate the value of volunteering.
      • If you want to convince someone about the value of a car, advertised prices or price guides will help convince the other party.
      • Comparable prices for real estate help you decide how much to pay for a house.
  3. Brainstorming options that focus on gains for all parties involved
    • Brainstorming is about coming up with ideas and solutions. You can be creative; no suggestion is wrong and no commitment to any of them is needed at this stage.
    • Explore options that may meet both parties' interests.
    • In the example above, John and Peter could agree to approach the manager with this possibility or together suggest alternative work/pay/travel to manager (an action they can agree on).
  4. Communicating and discussing together
    • Listen actively and be mindful of how you communicate. For example:
      • by developing guidelines for how the difficult conversation should take place.
      • by agreeing that only one person speaks at a time, and not make personal attacks.
      • by encouraging respect, which builds trust.
      • In the midst of a disagreement, relationships can be built and improved.
  5. Maintaining relationships
    • Use appropriate communication to improve or maintain the relationship.
    • Don't confuse your feelings about the person with the problem you need to solve (separate the people from the problem).
  6. Seeking out your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)
    • Identify alternative actions that don't require the agreement of other people.
    • Seek out your best alternative action and compare it to the outcome that is negotiated.
    • In the example above, John could find another job offering higher pay without Peter's agreement; and Peter could relocate to where his children are without John's agreement.
  7. Deciding the level of commitment reached at the end of the negotiation
    • Do not accept a proposal unless it is better than your BATNA.
    • Test the fairness of the proposal against what would be acceptable to others outside the conflict.
    • Point out possible issues that might interfere with the agreement (for example, not being able to guarantee that John can get a pay rise without getting the promotion).
    • Look for solutions on how you might make some rules about sticking to the agreement. For instance, a system of rewards and penalties could apply.

Following the steps above will maximise the chance of finding the best possible solution together, maintain relationships and achieving an outcome suitable to everyone involved.

Framing

A common mistake people make is to open the conversation from their own point of view, which can make it hard for the other person to listen to what they have to say. It is better to try to frame an issue by explaining and describing the context of the problem in a neutral and non-biased manner.

For example, you and a partner disagree about whether to spend the limited funding your organisation has available on hiring a new employee or building a disability ramp. Your partner wants to hire a new employee, but you want to ensure your premises are accessible.

How might you frame the conversation?

  1. Start with a non-biased description of the ‘difference' between the two views;
    "It seems that you and I are having trouble agreeing on how to allocate the limited funding that we have"
  2. Follow with an acknowledgement of the other person's view;
    "It is my understanding that you believe it would be best if we use the funding to hire a new employee."
  3. Then tell them your view; and
    "While I think the money should go towards building a new disability ramp."
  4. Finally, complete the ‘frame' by suggesting that both of you get together to brainstorm solutions to your shared problem after you have both had an opportunity to understand each other's views. Perhaps you can together identify points you can agree on and those you can't, and put them in an agreed order of importance for further discussion.
    "I think it would be helpful if we could talk about how each of us sees the situation and then maybe we can find a way forward..."

    Following these 4 steps will make it easier for both parties to have a constructive and calm discussion about the issues, and generate options to resolve their shared problem together.

    During this conversation, it is important to:

    • Try to listen actively and carefully, and keep calm.
    • Talk and communicate without being sarcastic or interrupting the other person – show that you respect the telling of another view and manage your own reactions.
    • Focus on events and behaviours; focus on the issue, don't attack the person.

Confronting

If you can't resolve a conflict together with the other person, sometimes it is necessary to confront that other person to let them know that you will not tolerate their problematic behaviour anymore.

Scott Susan1 suggests the following script:

  1. Name the issue (I would like to talk to you about...)
    I would like to talk to you about what happened during our meeting last Thursday afternoon.
  2. Give an example of the behaviour or situation you find difficult to tolerate (When you did this...)
    When you slammed the door on your way out before the meeting was over
  3. Describe your emotions about this issue (I feel/felt…)
    I felt very disrespected.
  4. Explain what is at stake if the issue is not resolved (I am concerned that this will...)
    I am concerned that this will put both our professional reputations at stake
  5. Identify how you may have contributed to the problem (I may have...)
    I may have contributed by allowing this kind of behaviour to pass on previous occasions.
  6. Communicate your wish to resolve the issue collaboratively (I would like to resolve this with you.)
    I would like to resolve this with you, so that we can continue to work together and put this behind us.
  7. Invite the other person to respond (I would like to understand what is going on for you from your perspective)
    I would like to understand what is going on for you from your perspective. What do you feel happened last Thursday?This way of dealing with the issue differs from the skills above. Instead of seeking to understand the other person's point of view, it gives you the opportunity to let the other person know how their continued behaviour makes you feel.However, it is important to give other person a chance to respond after you have made this opening statement, while remaining firm that, from your point of view, their behaviour or the situation needs to change.

    1Scott, Susan, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life One Conversation at a Time (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 2002).

Processes to manage conflict

The diagram below shows a number of processes you can use to resolve a dispute:

Processes for dispute resolution

For a more detailed explanation of each of these processes, visit Your Guide to Dispute Resolution, National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council and Attorney-General's Department, 2012, page 6.

The organisations listed in Where can I get help? can help you identify which process is most useful to you, and how to proceed.

Preventing conflict

What can you do?

Practising the skills explained in How can I deal with conflict can help you deal with conflict when it arises, but it can also help you communicate better with colleagues.

What can your organisation do?

It is important that an organisation is clear about what it expects from volunteers, how tasks and work are allocated and divided, what norms and values it finds important, and how it deals with concerns and complaints.

Organisations usually address some of these things in a volunteer agreement or ‘grievance policy', which should be clearly written and easily accessible.

As part of this, an organisation should provide volunteers with a contact person who they can ask questions of or present concerns to.

If your organisation does not have a grievance procedure, perhaps it is something that you can suggest.

Typical conflict situations

When:

  • How to deliver bad news

    Delivering bad news

    When you have to deliver bad news, such as the closure of the program, or that someone is no longer needed in the team.

    Funding has been cut and you need to tell James that the organisation can no longer afford for him to continue working on the regeneration program. You know he loves being outdoors and will be disappointed to no longer be part of the team.

    • Be honest about the situation and impact

    "I have some bad news that I know will be disappointing for you."

    • Get to the point and deliver the news clearly

    "Funding has been cut, we can no longer afford you on the regeneration team."

    • Explain how you made the decision

    "It was difficult to decide who to keep on and who we would let go from the program. In the end we decided on last on first off, and as you are the most recent addition to the team you are one of the people who has been cut from the program."

    • Recognise

    James might react with disappointment or even anger or upset and be prepared to listen to him with empathy.

    "I can see that the news is a very unpleasant surprise and you are bitterly disappointed. You want us to be upfront and fair in our decision making"

    • Offer options

    "We have looked for other opportunities for you to continue doing similar work. Here are our ideas and if you would like us to we can assist you to find another position in a similar program." NB do not offer assistance unless you are sure it can be delivered.

    Note on preventing conflict

    In the situation described above where it is necessary to decide who needs to miss out on an opportunity it might work to ask all those who might be affected to provide input into the decision.

    Example: "We have some bad news. We only have ongoing funding for 5 out of our existing 7 positions meaning two will have to be cut. We want to have a fair process to decide who goes or stays. Can we talk about the options with you before we make the hard decision"

  • You need to change behaviour or discipline someone

    Changing behaviour

    When you need to change behaviour or discipline someone, especially if past attempts at behaviour modification have not been successful.

    Jen is constantly late for her shift and this impacts others. In this situation it is important to be open to hear Jen's experience, even if you need to be firm about the change of behaviour. Try not to speak in terms of right and wrong rather than in terms of needs.

    • Name the problem

    "Jen, I need to speak to you again about the start time of your shifts."

    • Be specific

    "Yesterday you arrived at 11.45 for your 11.00 shift."

    • Explain impact

    "That meant that Warwick needed to stay back and was late for another appointment. When you were late on Friday I had to cover for you."

    • Invite discussion

    "I would like to discuss this with you, so that we can find a way that there is reliability as to your availability."

    • If there is no resolution, be firm

    "If this is not sorted out so that shifts are properly manned we will have to think of more radical solutions, perhaps even finding someone else to do your shift."

    • Be prepared to take the action you foreshadow if behaviour does not change, do not make "threats".

    Note on preventing conflict

    If there are rules and they are being broken, it is important that you address the problem immediately and gently and not ignore the behaviour.

    Early intervention that is calm and matter of fact, offering the other person a chance to explain while demonstrating the impact of the behaviour, is the best prevention.

  • Two people have a "personality clash" and are behaving badly towards one another

    Personality clash

    When two people have a "personality clash" and are behaving badly towards one another such as raised voices, personal abuse, etc.

    Harry and Joanne have had a number of arguments in the warehouse that are witnessed by others. They tend to use bad language and raise their voices.

    • Take responsibility for assisting and do not use third party concerns

    " I have noticed that the two of you are having trouble getting on. Is that right?"

    • Be specific

    "Last Thursday I noticed..."

    • Offer assistance

    "If you are having trouble getting on I would like to assist if I can"

    • Describe impact

    "I am concerned that other people might be troubled by the loud arguments you have"

    • Get expert help from HR or Voluntas (for instance)

    Note on preventing conflict

    People sometimes need help with managing relationships. Different approaches, styles, communication skills and capacity contribute to these problems.

    Often very early and gentle intervention without taking sides can assist. Think of yourself as the early intervention mediator. Make sure you can do this without judgement or blame.

  • There is an allegation of inappropriate behaviour such as bullying or harassment

    Bullying or harassment

    Where there is an allegation of inappropriate behaviour such as bullying or harassment.

    John comes to you and says that Alison, his supervisor, has been "bullying him".

    • Listen to understand, not to judge

    "I just want to understand what is happening and the impact on you first, before we decide what to do about your concerns."

    • Use non judgemental language while displaying that you take things seriously

    "It is really important to me that everyone who works here feels safe, and that workplace behaviour does not create risks to health and wellbeing."

    • Listen for impact, and don't ascribe intent

    "So I think you are saying that when Alison corrects your work, you feel undervalued and perhaps not trusted, is that right?"

    • Find out what John wants before taking action. Most people want to feel safe and valued.
    • Be clear about what you are going to do next and make sure that John is aware of "next steps".

    I am going to speak to Alison, not to tell her she is wrong but so that I can relay your concerns. I will get back to you by Thursday as to the next steps, which could involve getting together with Alison to sort this out, is that OK? In the meantime, what do you need to be able to carry on with your work?"

    Note on preventing conflict

    Good policies about what constitutes appropriate behaviour are vital. They should be easily accessible and understood.

    Training is also very important. When bullying or harassment is alleged, be aware that the very allegation is likely to cause further conflict. Framing the conversation as being about appropriate behaviour is useful.

    There is usually more than one side to the story. If you are discussing what happened in the past, be clear as to your purpose – is it to find out who is right or wrong? This is usually a task fraught with problems. Or, is the purpose to learn from what happened, so that everyone can feel comfortable in coming to work?

  • There is an argument about resources or allocation of work

    Conflict over resources

    When there is an argument about resources or allocation of work.

    The night shift leaves the kitchen in a mess, and the day shift complains about doing extra work.

    • Describe the situation from the independent perspective
      "There is a dispute about whose role it is to clean the kitchen"
    • Demonstrate you understand the different perspectives
      "The night shift thinks that cleaning the kitchen on the change of shift at 5.00 am is a burden, and the day shift is frustrated about having to do the extra work before members can get on with their work"
    • Show that you want to work it out with them NOT for them
      "I would like to see if we could find a way to deal with the issue fairly."
    • Seek each parties' perspective
      "Night shift, please tell me your view on the issue"Then make sure the other "side" has a chance to share their perspective.
    • Avoid judgements and the "right and wrong" or "good and bad" conversation
      "The most important thing is to agree on a way forward, not to decide who is right or wrong."
    • Support everyone in trying to work on an outcome that makes sense to both parties
      For example, start a brainstorming session:"What we are looking for is a solution so that the kitchen is clean and everyone thinks that they are making a fair contribution".

    Note on preventing conflict

    In this scenario your best role is as a mediator, not a judge. If you cannot fulfil that responsibility and feel you are judging one or the other party, it is better to find someone else to assist with the conversation. That person needs to be able to help focus on solutions, rather than assign blame or judgement.

    If the situation gets worse, it is advisable to seek assistance from an expert, manager, HR professional or mediator such as Voluntas.

  • There is change in an organisation, if people are feeling threatened by that change

    Threatened by change

    At times of change in an organisation, if people are feeling threatened by that change.

    There is going to be a restructure and everyone will be working in new larger teams, many with new managers.

    • Recognise that change is stressful
      "I understand that this change will create problems and I hope opportunities. I would like to explore with you the problems, as well as the opportunities"
    • Be prepared to discuss how the changes are to be implemented even if the change itself is "set in stone".
      "I want to discuss with you how we go about the change, how we make decisions about who is to lead each team, the membership of each team, and when the changes will begin."
    • Be prepared to listen actively to concerns and fears
      "So, Wendy, you are worried about the new structure. You are happy reporting to John, but do not know the other managers and have a concern that they might not understand what you are good at, and where you need help."
    • When trying to get your point across try using the word "and" instead of "but"
      So rather than saying "I know that you don't like this, but it is going to happen"
      Say: "I hear your concern is this... Can we work together to address your concerns and bring about the change that is required?"

    Note on preventing conflict

    People are less resistant to change when they are "brought along" or have a chance to buy in to what is happening. Even if change is essential it is better to acknowledge this, and have the team participate in the design of the change – even if they do not have the final say.

    If there needs to be a reduction in staff, the team may have some ideas about reduction in work hours or different shifts. You never know – they may come up with a better answer than you ever thought of!

  • Things go wrong and people are allocating blame, rather than learning from the experience

    learning from experiences

    When things go wrong and people are allocating blame, rather than learning from the experience.

    A program is not reaching its targets, funding is at risk and you think it is because Jane and Allan do not understand the needs of the stakeholders. They, in turn, accuse you of not supporting their work, or funding their good ideas.

    • Share the problem instead of assigning blame
      In this situation, the more you try to persuade the "other person" that it is their fault, the more defensive you will appear. As a result, the other party will defend itself more strongly.It is better to share the problem:We are having trouble reaching our target audience, I would like to talk about that"
    • Conversations about the past should focus on learning, not assigning blame
      "The idea of having a presence at the shopping centre on Saturdays seemed like a good one, but it does not seem to be creating traction. I wonder what we can learn from that."
    • If someone attacks you do your best to listen actively
      Respond (if you can) in a way that demonstrates understanding and is not defensive.

      Example:

      Allan: "You are incompetent. If only we had spent the money on a good marketing plan as I suggested, we would never be in this mess."

      Response: "So Allan, I think what you are saying is that you were disappointed when we did not invest in a marketing plan. And you think that would have made a difference, is that right? And you believe that we need to make good management decisions to achieve great outcomes, have I got it right?"

    • Try not to solve the problem before everyone is ready
      Some people are still reacting, being defensive or need to vent or grieve before they make new decisions after there has been a problem.

    Note on preventing conflict

    It is worthwhile remembering that people react when their "identities" are under threat. Almost everyone needs to feel that they are competent, that they are "good" people and worthy of love and respect. When we feel under attack it is those identity needs that might be causing the pushback.

    For instance, a need to prove competence can be expressed as an attack on someone else's competence. So, it is important to try to frame feedback in a way that does not attack identity.

    For example: "I wonder what went on that caused us to miss the deadline. You are usually pretty good with deadlines and keeping our people informed. Can we discuss what we both learned from the situation and work out ways to avoid the same problems occurring in the future?"

  • People are not feeling valued

    Not feeling valued

    When people are not feeling valued.

    People are reluctant to address their feelings of being undervalued, often attacking others or blaming management instead. For example, Jo feels resentment. When she put in extra hours last week, no one acknowledged her extra effort, or acknowledged that she had to arrange childcare at her own expense.

    • Try to understand what your personnel are experiencing that is causing the behaviour.
      If someone is demonstrating that all is not right, by being less engaged, being grumpy or attacking others, try to understand what is going on for them. Before you attack behaviour, check in (in private) to see if all is OK."Hey Jo, I notice you were a little reserved in the meeting, just wondering if everything is OK?"
    • Provide opportunities for people to express themselves, before having your needs met.More active listening is needed when someone is feeling undervalued.
    • Be prepared to make the first move.Hey Jo, I may have made a mistake in not noticing, can we talk about it?"It is possible to share responsibility without accepting blame.

    Note on preventing conflict

    See the note about identity on the page on Learning from experiences. This lesson is really important when people are not feeling valued.

    Ongoing feedback, acknowledgement of good performance, noticing when people are trying hard even if they are not getting results, and just regularly checking can prevent people feeling undervalued.

    The value of asking simply "how are things going for you" and really taking the time to listen cannot be overestimated.

  • Roles are confused and people clash about who should take responsibility or give direction.

    Roles and responsibility

    When roles are confused and people clash about who should take responsibility or give direction.

    It is easy to use rank to solve problems by "telling" people what to do rather than empowering and supporting. For instance, people are likely to react when being "told" how to do something rather than deciding for themselves.

    • Acknowledge all of the issues and relationships at play
      "I think that we might all be confused about how decisions are or should be made. Is that right? You are worried that if you disagree with Peter he may punish you, after all he is your boss. Is that your concern?"
    • Try to discuss process and rules, and how they can assist with proper decision-making.
      "What do the policies say about how this decision should be made?"
    • Do not make assumptions.
      You do not need to understand everything at once. The first step is to engage with the other person, so that you can try to understand what is truly going on.

    Note on preventing conflict

    It is usually better to empower and trust others, rather than managing them as if they do not know what to do. People look for autonomy, to have the opportunity to be really good at something (mastery), and to have a purpose in what they do.

    In volunteering there is usually lots of purpose. Volunteers often crave appropriate autonomy and the chance to learn new skills.

Where can I get help

Before you seek external help, first consult and ask for help from all available avenues within your organisation. Most organisations have grievance procedures in place. Is there a supervisor, manager, or HR liaison you can talk to about your concerns?

External assistance may be sought from:

The Centre will be able to provide some initial suggestions and connect you with other professional help (such as mediation services) if you have a problem. The Centre promotes volunteering services across NSW by helping people who want to be volunteers to find their "fit". They provide training and information, develop resources, and educate volunteers for the benefit of communities, government services and not for profit organisations. The Centre's goal is to align the parties to create the most benefit and satisfaction for the volunteer, and those receiving the services.

Volunteering Australia is the national peak body for volunteering, it works to promote and advance volunteering in the community. Volunteering Australia may be able to provide pointers and suggestions to help you deal with problems arising out of volunteering services. It also provides essential advice and resources to those who are or wish to be volunteers including advocacy in some circumstances, and guidance advice to volunteers in their work with organisations and individuals.

These Centres have been set up to assist members of the community with issues that may need a third party to help them resolve a conflict. They provide free mediation resources to help people solve disagreements (or resolve conflicts) without going to court. It is a quick, and impartial conflict resolution service for minor matters such as neighbourhood conflicts. It will also assist in some workplace conflicts and volunteering issues.

This is a new NSW group that focuses on conflicts involving volunteers across NSW. Voluntas, through The Centre for Volunteering, will arrange for mediation by experienced mediators at no cost to the parties to help them reach a possible agreement.

The Australian Human Rights Commission does not principally deal with volunteers but in some situations volunteers may indirectly come under some of but not all of their legislation. Volunteers would have to speak to the AHRC and provide appropriate information before they could tell whether that person and that issue was included.

Where can I find out more

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019