effective communication skills

Using Norms To Control Conflict

A norm is a standard of behavior set and enforced within a group. This norm (standard of behavior) can either be set collaboratively by the group or imposed by leadership.

Anytime you anticipate that a meeting has the potential to become contentious, it's a good idea to create specially targeted norms that are used conflict situations. It's best that these are created by the members, preferably at the start of the session.

Use these questions to create norms that will help your group to function better during conflict:

  • What behaviors and rules should we adhere to if we find ourselves getting into serious disagreements? 
  • What can we do to ensure that we have a good debate instead of a heated argument?

Here are some sample norms for conflict situations:

  • No one will interrupt someone else. We will speak one at a time. If necessary, use a speaking stick or other object that must be held by only person authorized to speak. When they are done, they pass it to the next person.
  • We will look at each other when we speak and acknowledge any valid points made by the other person.
  • We'll accept all ideas as valid when presented even if we do not agree with them.
  • We'll build on each other's ideas.
  • We won't dismiss any idea without really exploring it. 
  • We'll make sure everyone is heard; not just a few people.
  • We won't get emotional, critical, argumentative, or personal.
  • No one will attack anyone else.
  • If the discussion gets heated or we start going in circles, we'll call a time-out and look at how we are doing things. 
  • No one will deliberately block the group from reaching a final solution by taking a position.
  • We'll take a systematic approach to resolving issues rather than just pushing personal points of view.

Once conflict norms are established, they should be referred to at strategic moments to make sure they're being followed. Sometimes adding a new norm in the middle of a conflict discussion helps to stabilize a volatile situation. 

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