Season 2 episode 13 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we talk about a few tools to respond when conflict is happening in a meeting.
‘The sad update that we have is, at least to our knowledge, there is no fancy Magic Bullet intervention.’
Show notes, links
An outline of the VERA model:
|“I understand why it seems that way…”
“Yes, I can see why you think that…”
|“Yeah, I’ve definitely heard that it’s a struggle to get council housing, given the long waiting lists…”
|“I like to think of it more like…”
“If we look at [this fact], then…”
|“…but I don’t think that’s because of ‘too many migrants’ taking houses – especially as so many migrants are barred from social housing lists…”
|“So if we look at it from that angle…”
“Which means I think…”
|“…I think the the real problem is decades of underfunding of social housing, meaning that there aren’t enough houses for the people who need them, and the ones that are there are often shit quality…”
|“What do you make of that?”
|“…does that make sense?”
Some of the other tools we mentioned:
Name, frame, pause.
- Pro = don’t need a solution to respond with this, or even know what’s going on.
- Example phrase = “It feels like there’s some disagreement and heat here that’s not really being acknowledged. Is there something I’m missing here? Do you two maybe have different priorities when it comes to this topic?”
Request a group pause.
- Pro = can use the break to reduce the heat and switch tracks to approach the conflict from a different direction
- Example phrase = “I think things are getting tense here, and I don’t think I can continue to focus, could we maybe take a few mins break and come back?”
Enhanced name, frame, pause — where you talk to someone else to explore a challenge and why your group isn’t already dealing with the problem. Pro = dealing with thornier problems is easier with support.
- Seeds for Change’s guides on giving and receiving feedback and active listening
- A handout from Boston University about using “I statements”
And finally, some perennial resources:
- our sister facilitation collective Navigate have a conflict facilitation booklet (from back when they were called Seeds For Change Oxford).
- See our “What is facilitation?” podcast episode page for more general facilitation 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
and me, Ali.
I’m recording this now, baby!
Shit, it’s a podcast!
Okay, welcome back to the toolbox.
In this episode, we are going to look at tools and tips for handling conflict in the moment. In all the other episodes, we’ve given a lot of content around frames and ideas about conflict, and some tools for preventing it or handling it outside of the moment. And now we are going to get dive right into what to do if conflict is happening right now.
Great, and I guess one, one thing that will probably soon become obvious is for various scheduling readings, various scheduling reasons, Katherine is not here for this recording. So you’ll just have to make do with me and Ali. I hope that’s fine.
And so we’re gonna, we’re going to put forward a few like, very high level scenarios, and then we’re going to talk through so like: Okay, so in this situation, what could you do about it?
So one scenario could be the classic one, which is that there is some form of like active beef in a meeting. We’ve made the distinction before about like when there’s forms of conflict that lie under the surface and forms of conflicts that like spiking up in a meeting. This is the spiking up in the meeting one. And to make this all purpose, you don’t have to imagine that you’re the facilitator of this meeting, you’re just the person who’s in this meeting, and is witnessing the beef playing out. So. What are some interventions that we could do in this scenario.
The first intervention we want to bring is called Name, Frame and Pause. And what we mean by this is just kind of pointing to the fact that you think there’s conflict going on, trying to give some kind of explanation about what you think is happening, and then asking others if you think that’s true, making space to talk about it. It’s the minimal intervention in some ways, like, basically, drawing to the attention of the group that something is happening, and not letting it slide past.
So, as an example intervention, in this case, you might just say something like, ‘It feels like there’s some kind of disagreement and heat here that’s not really being acknowledged. Is there something I’m missing here? Do you two, who seems to be raising your voices have different priorities about what is being discussed in this topic?’ And then people may respond in different ways. But you’ve named it and you’ve given an explanation. And then everyone else can chime in with agreement or disagreement. Whatever.
Yeah. And I think one thing that’s, that’s good about this one is, I guess it doesn’t matter if your framing of the situation is right, necessarily, as long as you put it forward tentatively, then having a guess that gives people have the opportunity to be able to like, correct you and be like, ‘Oh, no, that’s not what’s happening.’ Or like, ‘Oh, no, like, it may seem like we’re really annoyed at each other, but actually, this is like how we talk all the time.’ And it’s totally fine. Well, maybe it’s not totally fine that this is how we talk all the time, who knows.
And also, the reason that I really like this as a way, I guess it’s the minimal intervention is like, you don’t have to have any idea what could be done to resolve this as a situation, you just have to propose an idea for what you think is going on, and then be like, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ And then there’s a chance that especially if you’re in a group of people, of like, maybe five, six, or more then like, there’s a decent chance that somebody in the room will have an idea of something that could be done about it.
So you’re like, making sure that the group takes responsibility for this thing, which is happening in the group, which is nice.
Amazing. And so often, these moments just slide by and people be like, Oh, I wish it did something. And I’m really simple thing is to just be like, ‘Aah, it feels like something’s happening. I don’t know what to do.’
Yeah, it’s the it’s the record scratch intervention.
Okay, should we give another option? We’re doing a bit of a quick fire what this episode, people! Another potential option is: take a small pause. If it seems like the beef is kicking off. So maybe take like a five or 10 minute break.
So, what we mean by that is if things start to get heated in meeting, then it can be helpful to give people space to just like have a slight cooling off before maybe trying to address what’s happening. So rather than the previous one, which is: go straight in with, like, there’s beef happening, let’s know it this is a: maybe let’s take a slight pause before we, before we do something.
So an example intervention could be something like, ‘It feels like things are really starting to like, get a bit tense in this meeting. And it’s it’s impacting my ability to focus on what’s happening, because I’m starting to feel a bit tense as well. And maybe it would be good if we all take a maybe 10 minute break, go outside, have a little walk around, and then come back in 10 minutes, and then we can like, get back on talking about this as a thing.’
Sweet. Yeah. And some considerations to take in to consideration..? [both laugh] Yep, good, good, good.
What you might want to think about is, in the break, people might want to use that break to talk to people, particularly if like, some individuals are getting a bit heated, maybe you want to take take some of those people aside and just like, see how they’re doing or whatever. It’s an opportunity to use, use that time. Maybe they just want to breathe, or you just want to breathe, and that’s fine. But if you don’t do that, maybe you might end up come back- coming back into exactly the same situation. Which could be fine. Or it could be easier if you’d done something differently.
And when you come back, maybe you want to try if you are the facilitator, or maybe you want to chat to the facilitator, you could ask people to talk to each other in pairs, just be like, ‘Maybe take five minutes to talk to your neighbour and be like, how are you feeling? What do you think’s going on in this meeting, that’s not really vibing for you at that moment?’ Because that, again, brings
all the other brains and feelings in the room to like, assess what’s going on. It doesn’t put it on you to like solve the conflict: everybody’s going to have a view of what’s happening. And that’s really, that’s more information than helpful.
And I think I guess like that’s a common theme. And what we’re saying now is like, if it feels like there is like an individual disagreement that’s happening in the space, then what are ways that you can try and collectivise it and make sure that the group can try and hold it as a conflict.
And one thing that I think is nice about that, about this as an intervention is like if if there is like a conflict happening, and then you go straight in with like, ‘I think maybe we should all like, just take like all chat to the person next to us about what we think is going on in this conflict,’ it can feel like a really jarring intervention. And people will be like, ‘No, I’m in the middle of making this point that I’m really passionate about,’ or whatever. And it can feel quite hard to do. Whereas if you just take an even a small break, it can be easier to transition back into a slightly different activity that’s not like, ‘Okay, let’s let’s reconvene the argument that we were having 10 minutes ago: Go!’
And so I think that’s a slight- you don’t even need that big a pause to be able to like, flick back into that as I think I think.
Yeah, another thing I like about it is like, breaks are tools. Like, people don’t generally think about that. They think about snazzy stuff that has got cool names and stuff, but just like have a break, it changes things. And people don’t need to be in intense conversations all the time. It’s good.
It’s not all weird fishbowls, people, it’s almost all not weird fisbowls, in fact.
So, another potential intervention in this situation, but maybe a bit more relevant for if someone said something that you that you disagree with in a meeting, which could just be like a one off thing, like or it also could be in the in the midst of conflict is that there’s a there’s a tool called VERA. V-E-R-A. So that’s a tool which is for responding to things which people have said that you don’t agree with. And VERA is an acronym. It stands for, Validate, Explain, Reframe, and Ask. So it’s a way of responding to something that someone’s saying without falling into the trap of reinforcing the thing which you don’t agree with. So if someone says something that maybe you deem, like, playing into societal bigotries, or something in a meeting, like, it’s a way that you can respond to what they’re saying, and like, acknowledge what they’re saying, but without being like, ‘Yeah, I also agree that it is the fault of the migrants that people don’t have council housing,’ or whatever it is. Ali, do you want to give an example intervention in the kind of VERA structure.
Yeah. So, this is an example of where there might be a disagreement about planning a demo. So one might want to like, have people to talk to the police to manage the crowd or whatever. And you might respond by something like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s really common that people think it’s good idea to have good relations with the police at demos and maybe talk to the Police Liaison Officers. Is that what they’re called?
The people in the police with the like light blue bibs who look really friendly.
And then you’d be like, ‘Unfortunately, they’re just a soft form of surveillance. And whilst they’re trying to be your friend, actually what they want to do is find out information about us. So if any of us get arrested, they can prosecute us. So for that reason, we don’t welcome police at our protests or talk to them at all. And then, you know, does that make sense with you? Like, am I, am I being clear here, and just ending with that ask part allows them to, like, ask more questions, or to say, like, ‘Actually, I disagree,’ or, like, challenge you a bit. And it can be, it can be a bit of a dialogue, it’s not like, ‘You’re wrong, we do it this way,’ kind of thing.
Maybe a consideration on this one is like, tools like this, especially with acronyms or like things with a few steps can sound kind of robotic and can feel like you’re being talked to through a tool. So it can be helpful to like, personalise it and just use it as a skeleton, but like, add your own personal touches to it.
I don’t know about you, but I, as I was saying to Ali earlier, always forget what VERA stands for every single time I mentioned it as a tool. And the word that I always remember is just the word reframe, because I feel like I do the other bits naturally. But it’s the reframing that I think is always the key bit of like those interventions for me of like, I like, ‘Yes, you’ve raised this point. And I want to acknowledge that this is what you’re saying. And I think that actually, that means that we can talk about this other thing that I think is maybe a more materially useful intervention into this problem that you see in the world,’ or whatever it is.
This is a thing that we do a lot on anti raids stalls, this form of response comes up a lot for the weird-ass stuff that people sometimes say to you, when you’re standing on the street for two hours.
And sometimes, and just sometimes people can be quite concerned about the Validate point, especially I think Sami, elaborate said earlier that like, you don’t want to be propping up a belief or a view that you don’t really support. And the Validate point can be really like, sometimes Kelsey says this in workshops, it’s like, ‘Yes, some people do think that’ and then move on. It’s not being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I really understand where you’re coming from.’ It’s just like, ‘Yeah, that’s your viewpoint.’ And move, move on to the next bit.
Yeah, you’re like, you, it’s making sure like, Acknowledging is another way, that sometimes people frame it, it’s like making sure that you are responding to the thing, which they’re saying, because sometimes it is like, when you do that validation or acknowledgement step, it actually can be become apparent that you didn’t actually hear them correctly. And what you’re responding to is not what they said. And that’s why it’s important. Also, like Ali said, end with a question.
Go on Ali, it looks like you’re gonna say something.
I was just gonna say, Do you want to move us on to the slightly different scenario that we’ve got? Which is…
Yeah, so yeah, so there was another thing that we were thinking of, because we were thinking that a lot of those situations are quite, like, individual conflicts of like, maybe two people are disagreeing or you’re disagreeing with someone else, or whatever it is.
But as we’ve talked about, in other episodes, like that’s not the structure of all conflict, sometimes a conflict can be more something that’s bubbling under the surface or a conflict can be more something to do with like, a clash between different values playing out in how people are operating within the group, rather than like, a pitched a pitched argument in a meeting.
So, imagine a scenario where you’re in a meeting and like, the vibe of the meeting is just a bit off. It’s a bit weird, like you feel a little bit uncomfortable in space, but there’s no like, there’s no argument that’s happening. And this isn’t the first time the vibe has been off. The last meeting, the vibe was also a little bit off. And like, there’s just some there’s something going on, that feels like there could be some kind of like, an unsaid conflict happening under the surface.
And so what we suggested, what we suggest could be a good intervention in this scenario, is something going back to that ‘name, frame, pause’ idea that maybe a slightly enhanced version of like named frame pause. Which we’ve written in our notes as, ‘enhanced name-frame-pause’, so please, if you do have a, if there’s a name for this, please let us know because this is a terrible name.
So that could be because often the, the challenge with the name-frame-pause, like we said before, is the bringing, bringing a framing can be quite difficult when there is a problem where it’s a little bit vague or what’s going on. And it’s a little bit harder to grasp, like what are the dynamics that are at play here? And so what we’re suggesting that you could enhance in a situation like this is find a way of enhancing that naming and framing by potentially talking to somebody else and trying to talk through and work through this problem.
Because it could be for example, there’s – when there’s less individualised problems, like for example, there’s a disagreement around what how the group allocates resources to certain things, like it’s come up in a meeting where people haven’t really addressed it or whatever. Like, that’s a lot harder to conceptualise what’s happening than like, these two people are arguing because like this person wants the flyer to be red and the other doesn’t want the flyer to be red or whatever, which is a lot more simple.
So what’s what could what could what could an intervention be of this form? Ali?
Yeah. So we were thinking that an example of this conflict might be where you think that our, your group doesn’t spend enough time and resources on like care for one on each to care for each other, and the group.
So an intervention might be, as Sami said: find someone else who you think might be sympathetic and share your feelings to explain why it keeps happening. Maybe you want to reflect on a question like, why is our group not are already dealing with this issue. And some examples might be not enough time, not enough people, different priorities to this particular thing. And then together, you could think of a way to bring it up in another meeting, in a meeting,
using that chat to help frame it, because it’s hard to, as Sami was just saying. And bring up some potential potential causes of, of what is happening.
So be like, oh, yeah, I feel like the vibes were a bit weird in the last meeting, when we postponed the chat about care once again. It feels like we’re worried about how much capacity we have to do this. And I think we should have an explicit chat about this. What do you think? And then have that as like a, you know, big point on the agenda or even a meeting on its own for that kind of that topic. Yeah.
Yeah. So I think, and maybe this is move- moving on to the kind of like, conclusions-y bit. Because I think this point is relevant what we just said, but also relevant to the other things as well, which is: a lot of the interventions that we’re talking about, work more, work more broadly than just the scenarios that we’ve given.
So, for example, we talked in the last episode around that question of: when do you intervene? Do you intervene in the moment? Do you intervene with a conversation with the person afterwards? Like, do you decide not to intervene, because you think it’s not worthwhile etc.
And a lot of these interventions like name, frame and pause, or like using VERA in a discussion would also work and like talking to somebody one on one after the meeting, that’s not the scenarios we gave.
And similarly, this like, kind of enhanced name, frame and pause could work in other scenarios where like, maybe you took somebody in the break of a meeting and like, use them to like help flesh out what is like a name and frame that you could bring as an intervention, when you come back from the break, or whatever it is. They’re all relatively multipurpose.
Totally. And we didn’t want to bring too many tools into this episode, like we brought four maybe already. But just to say that there’s like maybe some other things that we’ve been using in, within these tools. So like, a lot of the example sentences we’ve used have been been like, ‘I feel like this is happening,’ or ‘I’m experiencing this,’ like, kind of, like, people call them ‘I statements.’ So like owning your perspective and not framing as like, ‘This is definitely what’s happening and you’re definitely wrong.’ Like, yeah, trying to like own your perspective, trying to like, make space to hear other people’s perspectives. And yeah, using active listening, that kind of stuff, are all kind of weaved through these different examples, and will definitely give links to lots and lots of tools in our show notes.
Yes, we will.
And I think we kind of touched on this before, but like, often people, when it comes to there being situations of like conflict, whether like, active or under the surface in groups, what people really, from our experience, seem to want is like, what is the magic bullet intervention? What is the one thing that you can do, which means that everything’s magically fine and not difficult to deal with.
And the sad update that we have is, at least to our knowledge, there is no fancy Magic Bullet intervention. And all of these things are basically just different forms of: ‘note that the conflict is happening, and create space to try and process it and deal with it as a group.’ They’re all just different variants of that as a as an approach.
And so there’s probably loads of other ways that you maybe naturally through your lived experiences of like having disagreements with people or like managing conflict in like family dinners, or whatever it is. Maybe you’ll have lots of other ways that you can also like approach these kind of situations. This is not to say that these are the only limited ones.
But everything, probably when it comes to conflict in groups, the TL;DR is like, try and, try and hold whatever conflict it is as a group rather than individually.
And maybe that doesn’t mean everyone’s spending all time on it all the time. Like, it doesn’t necessarily mean having a whole group meeting, and everyone talking about it for every scenario, but it shouldn’t be individuals where possible, if like, unless that is part of a pre agreed group process. If that makes sense.
Yeah, totally. And I guess, oh, as with lots of tools, they can seem hard and difficult and strange if you haven’t used them. And conflict can seem hard and difficult and strange. And the only way to really get better is to practice. So practice. And I don’t know about everyone else, but where if I need to find some conflict, all I have to do is look a little bit around my life and there’s usually something going on, I can spend a bit of time working on.
There’s a there’s a podcast that I listened to called The Allusionist, where they do a word of the day at the end. And the call is always “try to use this word in an email today.” So what we will say to you is try and use these interventions in a conversation or meeting that you have today. Because you’d be hard pressed to go that long without noticing some kind of disagreement or potential proto-conflict or something going on. So go wild, let us know how it goes. And read the show notes because there’ll be more links in there. Okay.
Toolbox out! Bye!
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, resistrenew.com or on all the socials.
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That’s it for this week. Thanks for listening and catch you next time. Bye bye!