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Take the Emotion and Blame Out of Conflict


Participants in my Navigating Conflict and Change workshop report that tensions have been running high this year, and that's not surprising. When faced with the myriad of changes and added pressure related to the pandemic, people feel anxious, reactive and less capable of handling challenges.


In the moment reactions can then result in overwhelming emotions and a desire to place blame somewhere. That kind of atmosphere does little to support cooperation and problem-solving.


So, how can you remove the emotion and blame from a high-conflict situation? Planning and process.


The group involved in Navigating Conflict and Change is a community of practitioners committed to trying new tools, processes and skills. Together, we have been working through and practicing two strategies that give participants a formal process for managing difficult conversations:


The Interest-based Model


This model encourages collaboration by understanding the background and motivations behind alternate viewpoints in a conflict or change. Rather than viewing others as adversaries, interest-based strategy helps individuals and teams understand a bigger picture and identify interests and options. Interest-based encourages moving away from issues and fears to working together toward solutions.


This process helps us understand the emotion and the blaming that sometimes is a part of conflict because it places the issue on the table and everyone involved commits to working on it.


Individual viewpoints allow each side to contribute to the dialogue. Everyone involved has a voice. When people feel heard and included, tensions ease and collaborative problem-solving begins.


This model follows six steps to help guide the discussion:

  1. Share the story

  2. Identify interests

  3. Develop options

  4. Determine criteria

  5. Evaluate options

  6. Make recommendations, implement and evaluate

The methodical steps slow down the conversation and allow for learning, empathy and level-headed exchanges.


Process for Challenging Conversations


This planning model (adapted from Interest-based and Crucial Conversations) uses a similar step-by-step process aimed at finding common ground:

  1. Prepare. Set intentions and goals for what you want to achieve in the discussion

  2. Find mutual purpose. Identify the needs and interests of each party and look for mutual goals.

  3. Create a safe environment. Set ground rules for the conversation based on respect and civility.

  4. Tell the story and use facts. Cue each participant to share in brief and without using blaming language. Encourage questions and inquiry to better understand each viewpoint.

  5. Share thought processes and feelings. Acknowledge each participants’ experience through the process.

  6. Identify discrepancies and new understandings. Share new views and empathy.

  7. Identify needs and interests. All interests are legitimate including individual and group interests.

  8. Identify options. Brainstorm and avoid judging and evaluating.

  9. Determine solution(s) and agree on next steps. State individual and group commitments. Set a time to revisit and evaluate.

Both models encourage education leaders to practice facilitative leadership, which has roots in the idea that people support that which they create.


When decisions need the support of those impacted, participants involved in Interest-based or Challenging Conversations know that they have had a chance to tell their story and contribute to the discussion. The processes combined with respectful listening builds trust and relationships.



Susan Sparks


Learn more about the Navigating Conflict and Change workshop.

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