Resolving Conflict

by Ghada
(Egypt, Cairo)

Question by Ghada: Please advice me of stories &games and exercises for reolving conflict, and the way for making the session more interesting.

Answer by Experiential Learning Games: Conflicts arise from stereotypes or mental models that people have of others, themselves and the world around them. Stereotypes lead to self-fulfilling prophecies and their fulfillment.

More often than not, the fulfillment of these self-fulfilling prophecies manifest themselves as conflicts which reinforce stereotypes, escalating into further conflict.

A method of escaping this vicious cycle is called Conflict Resolution. Usually, conflict resolution begins with the examination of the stereotypes that are operating in the situation, recognising the worst outcomes of continuing/propogating the stereotypes and dialoguing to avoid these worst outcomes and thus resolve conflict.

Session Design

  1. Examine Stereotypes

    1. Define Stereotype

    2. My View of Others

    3. Others' view of me

    4. My view of myself

  2. Worst Outcomes:
    1. Worst Outcomes of not changing

    2. Worst outcomes of changing

  3. Strategies to break stereotypes about others and self

  4. Identify processes (group/IT based) that will bring about transparency and self-management

The exercises in the session design above are described below. They are indicative and provide an opportunity for simulation and understanding that similar realities are operating in any conflict ridden situation

1. Examining Stereotypes
1.1 Defining Stereotype:
This is a small group activity. Divide the large group into small groups of 5 or 6 members each. On flip-charts ask these groups to list down their definitions of stereotypes. They'll come up with terms like: 'typical behaviour', 'behave in only one way', 'fixed mental model', 'behaving traditionally' etc.

1.2 My view of others:
Have the groups open a fresh page on the flip-chart. Assign a role to each of the small groups. The three stereotypical roles that need to be assigned are:

1. Motivated employees (ME)
2. Unmotivated employees (UE)
3. Leaders/Managers (LM)

Have each of the groups divide their flip-chart vertically down the middle with a line. Have them label the two columns thus made with the names of the other two roles.

So, the group playing the role of 'motivated employees' will have on their flip-chart 'unmotivated employees' at the head of one column and 'leaders/managers' at the head of the second column.

All the groups playing the three roles will do a similar exercise.

The task for the group now is to describe in each column their view of the other two stereotypical groups in terms of behaviours that they manifest.

Typical descriptors in each of the columns would look something like this:

Motivated Employees:
- volunteer to do all the work
- suckers
- suck up to the management
- make others look small and incompetent

Unmotivated Employees
- Always late
- Drag their feet
- Will not lift a finger to do more than required
- Pass disparaging remarks on motivated employees and leaders

- Play favourites
- Play power games
- Always picking faults in employees
- Favor the motivated employees
- Threaten the unmotivated employees
- Always assign work to the same people

1.3 Others' view of me:
Once the above step is complete have the groups turn to a fresh page and record their own view of what the other wo groups think of them. Keep this task going for 5 minutes

1.4 My view of myself:
For the next five minutes, on a fresh chart, have them write down their own view of themselves, that is their own stereotypical behaviour

After this step is over, get each group to select a representative. The representative is expected to bring the flip-chart generated in step 1.2 and bring it to a pre-arranged part of the room.

(The pre-arranged part of the room will basically have 3 sets of chairs facing each other. Each set will be occupied by representatives of the three roles.)

Once the representatives have occupied the chairs assigned to them ask the groups to come over and stand behind their representative and support him or her when directed to do so.

Once everybody is in their positions, ask the representative of the UE to point fingers at the representative of the ME and accuse them using the words that their group has recorded under the column ME.

After about half-a-minute of this ask the representative of ME to do the same to the UE. Again, about half-a-minute later ask the UE to repeat the process with the representative of LM.

Another half-a-minute later, ask the LM group to do the same thing to the representative of the UE group.

After a while, ask all the three groups to accuse each other simultaneously and ask other members of the groups to join this process and have afree-for-all for a minute or so.

The altercation becomes noisy interspersed with bouts of laughter (as they all know that they are playing a role).

Stop the process at this point and have the groups go back to their places. Have them examine the charts that they generated in step 1.3.

They will find that the entries there are an exact reflection of the accusations that they heard in the conflict process that they went through a minute or two ago.

Next, have the group examine the charts that they generated in step 1.4. They'll find that the entries show that they have been doing exactly those things that they are accused of.


  • Conflicts are present, even if they are not vocalised

  • Unresolved conflict leads to perception of the stereotype of themselves, by the people involved in the conflict

  • Behaviour stems fom and reflects the perceived stereotype and solidifies into a self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Self-assessment also reveals the influence of the sereotype on one's behaviour

  • It is possible to break out of these stereotypes and establish healthy working relationships

2. Worst Outcomes:
2.1 Worst outcomes of not changing:
Have the large group call out the worst outcomes of continuing in the conflict situation at least 5 years in the future. Note down the points on a flip-chart, as the group calls them out.

Insist that they imagine the 'worstest' possible outcomes. The list will look somewhat like the following list.

- The organisation/company will loose good employees
- Group-think will bring stagnation
- The company may close down
- Negative energy will result in a bad reputation and ruin business.
- Retrenchment might happen
- Suicides might happen

At the end of the exercise, have the group notice the low-energy in the room as a result of the listing. Point out that this is a result of experiencing the emotions of future events as if they were happenning right now.

On another flip-chart get them to list out the worst possible outcomes of confronting and resloving conflict. The list will look somewhat like the list below:

- Operations will slow down as conflicts are examined an dialogue takes place
- New skills might have to be learned and so money will have to be spent and the learning process will be time consuming
- New processes will take time to solidify
- It will take time to learn new behaviours and communication styles

Once this is over, get the group now to decide the preferred worst outcome. Obviously, the second set will be the preferred choice.

Have the group commit to the principle:

"You can change only two things:

1. Your view of others
2. Your view of yourself

You cannot change:

1. Other's view of you
2. Others' view of themselves"

3. Get the small groups to identify strategies to break their stereotypes of others and self.

Some of the strategies that they might come up with are: Catch people doing right; Openness to mistakes; Creating conditions for success; Setting up norms for communicating respectfully etc.

4. Get the small groups to identify processes (group/IT based) that will bring transparency and self-management in the organisation.

Possible processes might include: Sharing daily diaries, detailing commitments and requesting time from others; Time-in, time-out register; Sharing monthly plan and review of tasks achieved; Mutually agreed upon Performance Appraisals that are de-linked from pay-hikes; career growth linked to performance appraisals etc.

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