Conflict Management

There are basically two types of conflicts which PTA leaders might have to resolve. The first are conflicts that arise when individuals are not able to work together. The second type of conflict occurs when individuals are not in agreement with discussion and/or actions being taken at meetings (Controversial Issues).

What Constitutes a Conflict Situation?

A conflict situation might be:
Strong differences of opinion between individuals or groups regarding proposed ideas or projects—and ways to affect the outcome.

Disagreements among members regarding what has already taken place.

Personality differences within the group that make it difficult for people to cooperate effectively with one another.

Situations brought about by people who often complain about objectives and activities.

A personality problem between two individuals.

A misunderstanding of assigned responsibilities (Who is supposed to do what?).

A misinterpretation of the group’s goals.

A refusal by some members of the group to work with a certain individual—for whatever reasons.

A personal agenda that has been carried to extremes or blown out of proportion.

Is Conflict Bad?

No, conflict is not bad. Conflict—and even controversy—are often the catalysts that stimulate a group to reflect on its goals and devise ways to reach them. Progress is made when problems are addressed cooperatively and solutions generated, not only by a mediator, but also by all individuals involved.

Controversy and conflict within a group can have a positive outcome when the leadership is able to develop skills necessary to manage the situation.

Why Do People Complain or Initiate Conflict?

Some people have genuine concerns about the progress of the group and sincerely want to improve the situation. By raising the issue, they hope to bring it out into the open for discussion and action.

Others lack self-esteem and may seek confrontation as an outlet. Still others crave power or authority and are testing the group, particularly the leadership, in order to attain it.

Some are reluctant to go along with needed changes, preferring to keep things at status quo (e.g., “we’ve always done it this way”).

How Can Leaders Deal with the Conflict?

Meeting Disruption

Support the right of the individual to express his/her viewpoint and be receptive to new ideas that may be offered (e.g., “It is important to hear everyone’s perspective”).

Encourage other group members to hold their comments while the individual is stating his/her point. We need to respect other people and their ideas, even when they may differ from our own.

Instead of meeting that individual “head on,” recognize his/her concern (e.g., “I know you are really upset about this.”).

If the situation becomes too difficult to deal with at that meeting, arrange another time to meet and discuss the problem informally and in a more relaxed setting. Allow time for cooling down, and select a meeting location that is non-threatening and neutral to the individual involved.
Consider contacting your council or district PTA leadership for assistance.
At the next meeting, the issue should be brought before the group, and after discussion, the group will come to a consensus.

Handling Disagreements

Maintain the responsibility—and the authority—of the leadership position by not taking sides. Neutrality of the leader is crucial in conflict management.

Focus on the problem or the issue and not on the people or their personalities.

Practice active listening. Rather than trying to minimize the problem, attempt to reduce the anxiety of those involved and focus on acceptable solutions.

Let people know their feelings of anger or frustration are understood, and try to make them feel more comfortable in sharing those feelings.

Meet and talk, one-on-one, with each of the individuals involved before bringing them together to help resolve the problem.

Selecting a good time and place is important and may help to ensure that those involved are relatively calm and not under overt stress.

Point out that there is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to address the concern—sometimes there is a more practical or feasible way.

Find something to agree on, such as basic goals. By so doing, the leader sets the stage for trying to agree on the strategies for achieving them. When people realize they have a common goal, they recognize they are actually on the same side rather than being adversaries.

Help people understand that not everyone will be happy with the decisions made—and that members can learn to accept without always having to give personal approval.

Group decisions should benefit the majority of the organization and the membership it serves.

Outside facilitators may prove useful.

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