When I run facilitation training courses , the most common fear for the newly qualified is usually “What will I do if people fall out and it turns nasty?” In reality this rarely happens but it does cause anxiety for meeting leaders when they are preparing. Here are some useful tips for dealing with this

– Differences of opinion and disagreements are a key part of a meeting and an inevitable consequence of asking a group of people to work together! Valuable information can be generated by airing different viewpoints and hence the discussion can be driven forward.

– Never allow the discussion to become a personal attack on a delegate. If this starts, stop the discussion and make it clear you expect all delegates to treat each other with respect. If necessary call a short break to allow delegates to calm down. This also gives the leader thinking time to review the plan for the next stage of the meeting and make changes if necessary.

– To avoid getting bogged down in negativity and problems it’s important to move to decision making and action planning. Some people find this more challenging than others so it’s important that the leader remains impartial and focuses on the purpose of the meeting.

– Where a problem is being described or information is being shared get the delegates to write this on a flipchart or whiteboard so everyone can see it. Get the delegates to ask questions and come up with solutions to the problem. Ask questions such as “What does this information tell us?”, “How can we get round this problem?”

– If the information or point of view is crucial to your aims then lead a review of the aims in a structured, controlled way. Write up the aims and ask “ Does what we’ve learnt change this in any way?”. If the general view is that there should be no changes then you can carry on. If there need to be changes then you should work them out now.

– Unfortunately there are occasions where a delegate will try and settle a score under the guise of a meeting. If the debate does not contribute to the meeting then do not allow it to continue and remind delegates of the aims of the meeting. I have sat in a meeting where two senior managers were allowed to score points off each other and it was a very uncomfortable experience! I could feel myself physically sliding down in my chair to try and escape! The meeting leader eventually called a break and the two of them carried on their discussion in the corridor! They returned in a much calmer mood and the meeting continued in a more productive manner.

What do you do to resolve conflict in a meeting?

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