Getting Comfortable with Conflict

Meeting-facilitation-300x198We all have to deal with heated situations and conflict and we need strategies for making things better, not worse.

Whether it is officiating a contentious negotiation, calming your angry teenagers, mediating between resentful couples, or handling your own upset spouse, we all need the ability to act confidently and effectively to restore emotional balance. Understanding that hiding within every intense emotion is a positive intention and knowing how to trigger your own curiosity and strength are very powerful tools that can help you manage these types of situations with confidence.

Meetings can get out of control in a heartbeat, especially when the participants are opinionated hot heads. During my 30 years as a meeting facilitator I have witnessed people lose their tempers, throw tantrums, yell, make threats, weep, or —what can be even more challenging— shut down and refuse to participate at all.

Fortunately, I have learned to maintain my equilibrium in the midst of such emotional chaos, thanks to knowing one powerful NLP presupposition and employing the very useful NLP techniques of anchoring and reframing.

The presupposition: Behind every behavior is a positive intention.

The processes — reframing “negative” behavior as a “positive” possibility, and introducing an anchoring technique called the “circle of excellence.”

One of the most challenging facilitations I had the privilege of leading was a six-month long negotiation process between a group of teachers, school administrators, union representatives and parents whose task was to design a Pay-for-Performance Plan for a large school district. The 20 participants had been meeting in the evening once a week for several months without much progress and had already fired a prominent mediator who had been recommended by the governor.

An attorney who was familiar with our work and track record recommended me and a fellow NLP trained facilitator as replacements. I admit we were feeling a bit intimidated by the situation but it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We knew our NLP training would support us through the challenge.

The task force included, among others, a forceful and intimidating union representative who would stand in the back of the room with his arms crossed waiting to pounce on any idea he didn’t agree with, a timid teacher who would either clam up or cry if she was challenged, a math teacher/soccer coach who liked making his point at the top of his lungs, and a parent who was great at using sarcasm to sidetrack the discussion.

After our first meeting with them, Margaret and I knew that navigating the long evening negotiation sessions and coaxing the task force members into agreement would require careful preparation. We determined that an anchoring technique called the “circle of excellence” would prepare the two of us to be resourceful and comfortable with the explosive nature of the participants.

We also knew that curiosity and strength would be helpful, and that using the NLP presupposition, “Behind Every Behavior Is a Positive Intention”, would be effective in diffusing heated emotions. So before each meeting, we set up a “circle of excellence” by imagining the space at the front of the conference room where we would lead the discussions as a platform that contained curiosity, strength and wisdom. We imagined stepping into that space and feeling those qualities flow into our bodies as we stood in front of the group.

That location in the room became an anchor for those qualities during each meeting. Whenever one of the “trouble makers” would try to use anger or sarcasm to intimidate another participant, we could feel our curiosity kick in. What was the positive intention behind it? How could we access and honor it? For example when the math teacher would get mad and yell at the administrator, one of us would say, “It’s clear you are passionate about this issue (reframing anger into passion) and we want to be sure to get to the underlying wisdom there. Can you help us understand what about that is important to you?” He would look at us with surprise, pause and, sure enough, get to his real concern quickly without any of his former vitriol.

Despite the intensity and controversy we got through the long process successfully. The task force was able to hammer out the first Pay-for-Performance Plan to be implemented in the state.

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Jan Prince

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