When I explain to people what I do, they’re often surprised and ask me, “so what kind of organisations call you in to do conflict resolution training for them?”.
It’s a great question.
What’s behind it is usually some level of disbelief along the lines of, “who has enough conflict that they’d need training in how to handle it?”. Or even, “who would need an external mediator?”
Sometimes, it will be followed up with, “That’s so interesting. I’m really lucky though, we don’t have much conflict at our place.”
I’m not denying that this is probably accurate for them. Right now.
Conflict is inevitable
However, conflicts will happen. It is more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if’. The beautiful diversity of us as people is that we have different perspectives, life experiences, stories, values and viewpoints. It’s quite possible to go weeks, months or sometimes even years without much tension with others.
Then there is a change of some sort and suddenly all hell breaks loose!
A restructure and new appointments are made. A new boss and suddenly you’re being micro-managed. A new member of staff on the team who has a different way of working to others and quickly gets labelled as ‘difficult’. A troubled pupil starts at the school from a very ‘challenging’ background.
Often we feel that we should be better a handling these situations.
I think we can cut ourselves some slack here though. Let’s face it, how many of us had lessons at school in this? And even as adults, it’s only a lucky few who’ve had any high quality training in how to handle difficult situations.
Training in handling conflict well
It’s exactly that kind of conflict resolution training that can pay for itself many times over. Research has shown that just being able to identify and name our feelings makes us feel better. This is true even when the trigger for the stress is still there.
Imagine then what is possible if we offer staff outstanding created-for-you conflict resolution training? Training that will really help when tensions arise and persist.
Creating an open culture around handling conflict can pay off many times over. It’s an investment well worth making. If you’re considering getting some specialist training, but not sure if it’s worth it, consider this: what will happen if you don’t do it?
Changing a culture
Take a school I’ve worked with over the past couple of years, for example. The headteacher needed support because conflict on the playground was escalating and some children were on the edge of being excluded. We worked with her to bring about a culture change around handling tensions. We trained both staff and pupils in working effectively with conflict.
A group of twenty children were selected to be peer mediators. One of these boys I’ll call Luke*. Luke came into the training and I was ‘warned’ about him. “He’s on his last chance”, the Head told me.
I expected to work hard at managing his behaviour but he sat there as quiet as a mouse that first day, taking it all in and fully engaged.
By the end of the training, he had come out of his shell and was one of our star mediators. The teachers were amazed. “I can’t believe Luke”, they said in whispered tones at lunchtime. “He’s doing so well.”
At the evaluation six months later, the Headteacher told me, “Luke has completely turned his behaviour around. He has taken his role really seriously and has become a role model for others. All the children look up to the peer mediators and want to be like them.”
I spoke to her again yesterday, as we approach the end of the school term and she said, “We’ve got involved in a lot of initiatives but we’re letting go of some of them as it’s a bit much. This one, though, we want to keep doing as it’s making such a difference. The year 4 and 5 teachers have commented on what a difference it’s made in their end of year reports.”
What might have happened if they’d decided it was just too much time, effort and money to invest in the peer mediation programme?
Have you invested in any kind of conflict resolution training? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts below on what kind of impact it made.