Toolbox: Conflict in the moment

Season 2 episode 12 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we talk about how to deal with conflict in the moment where it spikes up, using a frame called an “OODA loop”.

‘Conflict doesn’t have to be fighting or loud. It can be a stickiness, or a tenseness that our body is picking up on.’

Show notes, links

OODA loop: a circle, with Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act in a loop around the outside

Why this is a useful frame: intervening in conflict situations can feel difficult; it is easier when you do these steps first!.

In the “Observe” step, a few things to look for:

  • volume changes
  • an issue “cycling” back again and again
  • issues being raised but not addressed
  • participation changes (did some people leave the space and not come back)
  • feeling tense in your body

In the “Orient” step, a few questions to reflect on:

  • Who is involved, and who isn’t?
  • Who is visibly involved, who could be not visibly involved?
  • What roles are people taking (formal and informal)?
  • Why do you think it’s happening now? (e.g. specific timings
  • What’s your position in this?
  • How could this pan out? Do you think it will escalate, or fizzle out?

In the “Decide” step, a few areas to consider:

  • WHEN to intervene: never; later but not now; now; a mix
  • WHO should intervene: you? You + someone else? Other people, not you?
  • WHAT you could do: have a side chat with people you think are “in conflict”; checking in on what a person who has been harmed wants; activating a pre-existing conflict process; name that conflict is happening, and explicitly park it til later; take a pause, to make a plan; name + ask people what’s happening; find out what (some / all) people need; name and frame.

In the “Act” step… good luck! More on potential interventions next week…

Other resources on OODA loops as a model:

And finally, some perennial resources:

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This is Resist Renew,

the UK based podcast about social movements,

what we’re fighting for, why and how it all happens.

The hosts of the show are

Me, Kat.

Me, Sami,

and me, Ali.

I’m recording this now, baby!

Shit, it’s a podcast!

Welcome to this episode of the toolbox. Today we’re going to be exploring what to do in the moment when conflict sparks. And we’re going to explore this using a thing called an OODA. Loop. And the OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Over to you, Sami, to tell us what this is.

Yes, I will try. [Luahgs] So: full disclosure, this is an idea that comes from like military with like a military background. So I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever like been trained at this at military school or whatever.

But yeah, so the this like this OODA Loop, like to imagine it, as like a circle with Observe, Orient Describe Act as like a set of steps that you’ll go through when deciding to do something in some kind of like conflictual situation or other type of situation. And so and I think just breaking out those distinct steps is probably quite helpful.

Like, often when there is a conflict, you will have a step of, like, trying to work out what’s going on, which is like maybe an observation step; which maybe has a question around it, like how do you know that there is a conflict happening? Like, what is the signal that tells you that?

There’s something about orienting, which is like, kind of digesting what you’re observing. And like, thinking about how to structure that information. So having a bit of think about like, what is the information that you want to try and, like, pay attention to and like, all those kinds of questions.

So: Decide is the next one which is… So like, this one’s probably the one the least relevant to this, because deciding and acting probably for this kind of equivalent. And then so like, then the question is like, so what, How are you going to act? Now? How exactly is that going to take shape? So like, when are you going to act? How are you going to act? What you’re going to say? And questions like that.

So what we’re going to do in this episode is probably less, because this is more of like, this is a frame like a way of thinking we’re not suggesting you should use this as a tool in your group. But it’s more: this is a useful frame, maybe, to help think of what some questions, what some areas that will generate some questions around are some things that you can reflect on, when there is a conflict happening, that you’re participating in, witnessing, etc.

So, first question is maybe is so like, how would you know that there is a conflict happening? Who wants to take that one?

So, I guess there’s a few different signals that might tell us that there’s conflict happening. One that might be quite obvious, even though this isn’t just what conflict is, is like, people might get loud and start shouting a each other, or there might be some kind of physical signals of people making angry faces, sad faces. So that might be one thing.

But it could be also completely the opposite. And people go really silent, go quiet, might leave, might never come back to your group or meeting. So yeah: both ends of the spectrum there could be a signal.

I think there’s also something around a signal to pay attention to if the same concern keeps arising again, and again, like a phrase for this is ‘cycling’, like when something is cycling back around, is a sense that maybe there’s an issue that’s not been dealt with yet, because it keeps returning to your group. And therefore, maybe a decision needs to be made about what’s gonna happen with that issue that keeps returning.

And that, is that one where it might be on the level of like values that haven’t been like, fully talked through, potentially, like the same issue keeps coming up and getting stuck and not being able to, like move past it? It might be… It’s not that we can’t decide what’s the best action. It’s like, do we think this is in line with our values? Are there like fundamentally like diverging paths there?
Yeah, absolutely. And I guess another one related to that is like, people name that they’re not happy about something, but then nothing happens as a result of that. Which is a common one, especially in groups where there’s not very much time to process things if there’s a long action list.

And I guess another signal could be more of like a – internal sense. It could be your own emotions, it could be the way your body feels, if you just suddenly feel tense. That also is a signal and it’s worth paying attention to that as well. Even if, you know, like mainstream thinking around like, intuition and bodies is like not – it tells you to devalue that. But it is like a it is a signal as well.
So those are a few different signals that there might be conflict going on. Does someone want to tell us about what would come next after that, in this OODA Loop?

I can give it a go. Because it’s, because, so, that’s maybe some things that you’re like…. Those are some ways that you’ll notice that conflict is happening, and maybe you’ll be so like, it’s always good to then be like observing the group and just like trying to absorb what’s going on, and maybe some questions that will help you like kind of, I guess, structure that information, which is what the Orient is in the OODA. Which I think is the hardest one to remember what it means is like, how do you structure the information?

So there are some a few questions that you could think of around some like I guess frames or lenses you could use to analyse what’s happening. So for example, like who is involved in this, like spark, and who isn’t? And thinking about what it means to be involved. Like, who’s visibly involved? Does it seem like there are people that are like not visibly involved in that they’re maybe not in this spark that’s happening, but maybe you think they’re, they have some kind of involvement, maybe outside of this discussion, space, whatever.

Thinking about, like, what the different kind of like roles people occupying are, maybe in like a formal sense in a group. You know, like, if they’re the treasurer, and it’s an argument about money or whatever, like, maybe the roles will be relevant. And but also, like, in a more general sense, like, what kind of like positions they’re taking, like rank and power and questions like that in the space.

And there’s maybe some, like more meta, there’s sort of like quite practical ones, of like, things you may be noticing, but there’s probably also some, like meta conversations around that, which is around like, like, having a think about like, Why do you think this information’s coming out now? Like, is, do you have a space to process conflict? And that didn’t go to that one? In which case why? Or do you feel like this is erupting now, because people don’t have another place to mention it? Things like that. So there are some thoughts. Any other ones that are relevant under that?

You might want to think about you as a person in this like, dynamic as well. Like, what’s your particular role and, and rank in relation to the other people involved? And maybe your relationships with the other people? And you might want to think about, like, what might what’s like potential things might happen in this situation? Like, is it something where the conflict could escalate? Or is it kind of just like, a low level thing? That’s kind of gonna rise and fall, yeah, naturally?

So: that is a few different questions around orienting and organising the information, and then thinking about what you need to know, to decide what to do. So I guess next comes like, how are you going to decide?

So I think there’s sort of first question like in the how you’re going to decide around timing, and thinking about when are you going to deal with this issue that’s emerging. And there are a few different options with relation to this. And I think it’s important that we just kind of name those options, and not just assume like that one of them is always the best one.

So, one option is never: you’re never going to address it. And thinking about like, what’s good or bad about engaging or not engaging, and that sometimes it can be good to not engage. So although you might automatically feel like well, never addressing a conflict is awful. Sometimes, actually, it’s a good idea not to, and there can be some reasons for that.

So one might be because you’d mess up an existing process, like if there’s already an ongoing conflict process, intervening in that moment, could disrupt that other process that’s being held separately. Potentially because it’s very low consequence. And if we dealt with every, every spark that emerged, potentially, in some groups, we would never do anything else.

And then I guess there were some less good, but maybe understandable reasons why you might not address it at all, potentially, because you’re scared in that situation. You might be fearful for yourself or for others in the group. And potentially, because you hope that someone else who knows the people involved better would deal with it. So it’s almost a sense of like, ‘Am I the best person?’ and wanting to pass it on. So there are other options in terms of when you might want to deal with it. I’m just wondering if someone else wants to speak to, to those?

Another option after never might be: Later, but not now. So for instance, talking to people about the situation outside of the situation, so if it was a meeting going and having a separate conversation outside of that space. So there can be good and bad reasons for choosing to do that as well.

It might be a good idea to do that if dealing with it in the moment might actually cause more escalation and you want you don’t want to encourage that. Might also be less shaming. I guess it’s like, using the frame of using the term like ‘calling out,’ like calling someone out and saying like, ‘That wasn’t a good thing you just did’ in front of everyone can be quite embarrassing for people and cause people to get defensive or even double down and say ‘No, actually, what I’m doing is fine.’ And you might have a more dialogue, if you do it outside the space.

It might also be good if like, there might be consequences to not addressing it, but it’s not super urgent and doesn’t feel like the consequences are, need, it just doesn’t feel like it like needs addressing right now. And it can still be dealt with later.

And then another one might be just related to the shaming one. Like if someone is new to the group, it can be, it can be really like alienating to be ‘told off’ in your first or few first few interactions with a group. So like, having a more gentle conversation with someone outside of that space could be much more welcoming and make people feel like they can can get involved, can make mistakes, but still stick around. What about some less good ideas about doing it later? Anyone got something the want to bring in there?

I think just another one on what you were just saying, Ali, is I think like there’s also what I’ve definitely seen as a dynamic in spaces is somebody saying something people wanting to not directly challenge them because they’re new to the space, but that you can see that the person has noticed that people have reacted kind of weirdly. So like, it can be quite a good like chatting to the person late it can be like it, you may think that people kind of went weird when you said this, and that’s because like, this is the thing that we’ve discussed before, and like it caused these kind of problems and like blah, blah, blah, like you so you can give them that context. So like to acknowledge that, like, they may have noticed the vibe change talking about the signals but not understood. And you can give them a bit of that reassurance.

And yeah, so some reasons why it could be less of a good idea to address stuff later and separately, could be when you think it would be useful to it’ll be more useful to not do that, i.e., for example, to discuss stuff all as a group together rather than like later in, in separate conversations.

So, kind of links that question of like, does it feel like this is like kind of a separate not core to the group type thing when based on your observations? Or does this feel like kind of a fundamental one that actually needs to be like a discussion with everybody? Could be, for example, if you think it is really like relevant to the chat at hand. So it’s not something that’s like, oh, we can postpone this conversation to later because it does feel like for example, a fundamental values challenge that would block us from being able to make the decision that we’re trying to make, and that’s where the conflict is happening. So like, we kind of need to address address it now to be able to do the things we want to do.

Or maybe another one is that it could be if it’s something where like, it could derail the meeting, if you don’t address it, because the problem could keep coming up. Maybe an example being like, people getting people’s pronouns wrong in a meeting. Yeah, maybe it would be preferable for the person who’s used someone’s pronouns incorrectly in a meeting. But if your meeting’s two hours long, and they’re gonna keep doing it, it’s probably less embarrassing to mention it to them now, even if it is in front of everyone, rather than be like, You made this mistake seven times in the last two hours at the end of the meeting, which could kind of feel worse.

And so, so, so how, how could you – So I guess we’re talking within the context of like, maybe having separate chats with people later. So if we do if you do decide it is more of a good idea than not a good idea, how could you do that? What could you do to take that forward?

So I guess a couple of things that I’ve kind of seen done, are to go and check in with people that you noticed having that conversation or that conflict kind of immediately or soon after the meeting, and going and having those conversations kind of to the side or outside of the meeting.

And potentially just seeing how they are, seeing if they need anything, seeing what what might be a next step. One question that I’ve heard asked to someone who’s maybe being harmed in the space is like, ‘What does justice look like for you next?’ and then seeing what arises from for that person.

And if a process does exist for the group around conflict more generally, that might be a moment to be able to point people towards a pre existing process. So those are some of the things that you could do if you’re wanting to address a conflict after after it’s happened. Yeah, so I think then, we’re sort of sort of starting to point towards, what what would you do in in the moment, as it were, if you wanted to address it there and then I’m just wondering if people have thoughts on, on what you would do if you didn’t do it later or never: you do it now.

Just, just before we do that, maybe it’s worth just highlighting: so like obviously those were kind of those are two examples of when you can bring stuff up. ‘Never’ being I guess a, I guess a version of a time? ‘Never’ as a time, or like, entirely later there’s obviously like there’s there’s other options those aren’t the only two like maybe you’ll say a little bit now and like you can flag that there is something but explain that you’ll talk to somebody later; or like there’s a few different like maybe hybrid options. Those aren’t, we’re not claiming those are the only two potential times to to do stuff.

And yeah, so I think just riffing off what you were saying, Sami, around the ‘something now mostly later’, one of the one of the things you can do in the ‘something now’ is name that conflict is happening. And that you won’t be dealing with it in this space, potentially, because you already have a full agenda potentially, because it’s not appropriate to deal with it now, for whatever reason, you’re deciding not to deal with it in that space. But the something now can be naming it. And it feels really important to, to sort of show naming it as an as an offering, as an option. It’s not, it’s not nothing. It’s not never, but it’s not dealing with it there and then in the space.

So then we move on to the: What do you say or do if you want to go beyond naming it? And it feels like this is, there are a few options here that we could kind of share.

One would be taking a pause, figuring out how you want to move forward, potentially, based on if there was a group agreement, if there is a conflict process that exists, whatever that might be. It could be checking in with the group about what’s going on for people and kind of asking some questions and eliciting feedback from the group around what’s happening and maybe what people need.

And then I think there’s also something around hearing what people need and then trying to respond to that in the moment. So an example from a session that I was in a few years ago was that the group wanted an accountability process in the space there and then to react to the harm that had happened in that space. We didn’t have a pre existing accountability process. So it was working with the group, live, to try and work out: well, what does accountability mean in this space? It means hearing from everybody. It means acknowledgement of harm. It means apologising. It means sharing: ‘what next?’ and what, what kind of consequences might need to be taken, which we kind of riffed on the spot. But it was a response to what was emerging in the group.

So these are just some of the options of things that you could do in the moment, if you’re wanting to try and deal with conflict now. But all of these things feel like quite a lot bigger chat, than we have time for. So we decided that we’re gonna add an additional episode, where we’ll go into these what you do in the moment in a lot more depth.

As well as what you just said there: I think naming it, I think you said this, and then it could be more explicit, like naming it as part of it. And also, I have a phrase like ‘name and frame’, there’s like I naming it as like, ‘I think something’s happening here.’ And then framing is like, ‘I think what is going on here is maybe this? is that what’s going on?’

And then that’s like, offering a bit of a reflection back to people. And then they can confirm or challenge what your interpretation is. So that’s like an opportunity to let the whole group or let other people like, come in and give perspectives on it. But yeah, more of that in the next episode! But shall we, shall we have some top takeaways on our loops of OODA?

Yes. I think for me, the thing which I take away is like I think, I think I see people a lot more talking about how to respond to stuff and not as often reflecting on the question of when to respond to stuff. And I think that question of like thinking about when to respond in quite like a strategic way, is a really important thing to do. And when, like, conflict sparks in a space in a group. That’s my one.

I think for me, it’s something you shared Ali around like the body, giving signals and like the affirmation of body knowledge, that it doesn’t have to be fighting or loud. It can be a like stickiness, or a tenseness that our body is picking up on. And that being a signal that is like valid information, that there’s something up in the space, and we need to be attending to it in some way.

Great. And for me, I think it’s about laying out all the different options. So it’s it’s, yeah, saying, once you’ve noticed conflict, there’s a whole range of things you can do. And it’s not just an either/or do something or do nothing. There’s like a whole spectrum in there. And this tool helps you filter through with pros and cons as to how to decide between all those different options.


All-righty! We’re done!

Probably good to split this one into two episodes. [laughs] Big chats, big chats.

Thanks again for listening to this episode of the Resist+Renew podcast. Thanks as ever to Klaus for letting us use this backing track and to Rowan for doing all the transcription on this season.

If you want to find out more about Resist+Renew as a training and facilitation collective, check out our website, or on all the socials.

And if you want to support the production of this podcast, you can do so at

That’s it for this week. Thanks for listening and catch you next time. Bye bye!

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