6 Strategies for Managing Group Conflict


Are you your group’s whip? If so, you’re the person everyone talks to. You mitigate conflict. You know people’s opinions before the meeting because you take the time to talk to them. You get people on the same page. You set the tone for meetings.

In a group setting, the person who plays the whip role can seem magical – meetings run smoother and the tone is better when they’re there.

I used to be the informal whip for a council. To be honest, I was just tired of needless conflict. I wanted to get through our agenda faster and have a better time while doing it.

Add your tips for everyone in the comments below!

  1. Be prepared. It takes time, but you have to be more prepared than the rest of the people in the room. Do your homework on the subject matter as well as identify potential pitfalls and hang-ups for your group. On the political side, have informal conversations and pre-meetings with group members to see what they’re thinking. You’ll have fewer surprises and will be able to address concerns or change directions with agility.
  1. Be patient. Awkward or tough situations go from workable to untenable quickly. You must control your temper; hide your dismay or disgust. Getting short with people feels good in the moment, but can destroy relationships in the long term. Remaining neutral takes control. Take deep breaths or force yourself to wait to respond to high-conflict situations.
  1. Ask neutral questions. How you word questions and your tone can have a huge effect on the course of a meeting. You can calm conflict and assuage egos, or you can have a blowout. Check out this guide for how to ask neutral questions that seek to get information rather than to make a point.
  1. Meet sarcasm with earnestness. Sarcasm has no place in the workplace, especially if you’re in a leadership position. It damages individual relationships and teams. If you have a team member who uses sarcasm, address it one-on-one if you can. But sometimes, people who use sarcasm love to know that they got to you. When addressing the situation won’t work, meet sarcasm with earnestness and a smile. You’re more will be more likely to neutralize their negativity rather than spark it. If you don’t acknowledge sarcasm, it isn’t as fun.
  1. Stay positive. You don’t have to say everything is perfect and you don’t have to be unrealistic. Being positive will help set an expectation for how people will interact with each other – or at least will set expectations for how team members should expect to interact with you. Set a high tone and hold others to that standard.
  1. Say thank you. High conflict groups can come from people feeling misunderstood, undervalued, and unappreciated. Find something that you can honestly thank people for. Whether it’s their time, passion, the work they put into a product – be creative if needed. Make it a habit to practice gratitude open and honestly. It’ll help the people you work with feel appreciated and will reduce group conflict.

Open conflict, tense meetings, and burned bridges are all too common at work. If you’re thrown into an awkward situation with the expectation that you can make it better, try some of these strategies and see if they work for you. What other methods have you used to diffuse tough work situations?

Lauren Lien is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Krista Roche

Great perspective, Lauren! Thanks for sharing your insights. I love how all of these tips would lead someone to remain calm in a conflict situation. Avoiding our flight/flight/freeze instincts is the best thing we can do in most situations, along with having compassion for the people who surround us. Thanks for the great tips!