Conflict Resolution Activities

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This section deals with conflict resolution activities. One of the most important aspects of maintaining rapport with even the most difficult pupils is the way that you manage conflict resolution activities with them and particularly after any incidents where you have had to use formal school sanctions against them. Many schools very sensibly now operate a system of 'resolution meetings' for pupils who have received a sanction (normally when they have been removed from the class). The idea is that the teacher meets the pupil at some point after the lesson where they received the sanction and via the process of conflict resolution activities,clears up any misunderstandings from the incident. It gives the teacher a chance to be clear about what action they took and why and to build bridges (if appropriate) with the pupil before teaching them again. This system is obviously preferable to one where the pupil and teacher meet again without having had the opportunity to discuss outstanding issues from the previous lesson, as both parties may well be harboring resentments which may spill over into further conflicts. Meetings such as these are also vital lessons for the pupil in how to model good conflict resolution and good communication skills and demonstrate to them that their welfare and the quality of their relationships with their teachers is a priority for the school. In general terms, once a teacher and pupil have been through this process once, there is rarely a need for more conflict resolution activities, as either the relationship improves markedly or the pupil simply cannot be bothered to go through the 'hassle' of another meeting and modifies their behavior accordingly!

I have been lucky enough to work in schools where conflict resolution activities and meetings are applied well and have found the long term benefits to be enormous. Building a good working relationship with hard-to-reach pupils takes time and involves a high degree of trust on both sides. Conflict Resolution activities can transform these relationships and relieve teaching staff of a great deal of stress. However, my belief is that they must be handled properly for them to have any benefit at all for either party. For this to happen, certain factors must, in my opinion, be in place.

Perceptual Positions


Before we go into specifics, I would like to re-visit the Perceptual Positions exercise that I described in the Creating Rapport section and its relation to conflict resolution activities. There is a detailed application of this NLP technique in the 'Special Education Teaching' section as well. Here, I use it to unpick conflicts that can arise between pupils with Special Educational Needs and Teaching Assistants as well as between Teaching Assistants and class teachers. The value of the technique is that it is the best 'empathy generator' that I know, allowing you to imaginatively 'step into another's shoes' and experience a conflict from their perspective. The result, in strict NLP terms is that you 're-frame' the conflict in your own mind by comparing your view with that of the other person.

The genius of the perceptual positions exercise is that it demands an additional reframe as you step into the shoes of a neutral observer and begin to look at the conflict as a whole. You ask questions about what both people need to see and hear, in order to restore their relationship. As you can imagine it is an excellent model for resolution meetings and can throw up some fascinating insights about the motivations behind pupil behavior. One NLP pre-supposition is that 'every behavior has a positive intention'. This does not necessarily mean that it has a 'positive' outcome however. It simply means that more often than not, 'misbehavior' has an intention or need (mainly unexpressed) behind it. If a teacher can become sensitive to the intentions and needs behind pupil behavior, they will find it easier to separate the behavior from the individual and to focus more clearly on the pupil's underlying needs, be it for more attention, clearer boundaries or a better rapport with their teacher.

Accelerate Your Learning

The best possible way to appreciate the value of this exercise as a conflict resolution activity is to try it! The simplest starting point would be to choose an actual conflict, past or present, that has impacted you, to work on. It should preferably be one that is ongoing, unresolved but which you feel could benefit from fresh insight.

The purposes of this exercise do not dictate that it has to be a student/teacher conflict either. Choose a personal conflict if you like or a work relationship that is problematic. The only caveat is that it should not be a conflict where you are too strongly committed to see the other person as wrong and where you are not open to learning from your experiences. You can work through the process individually or with a partner who facilitates but who does not actually take part.

Setting up the exercise:

You will need to 'occupy' three different perceptual positions during the course of the exercise and aim to spend a couple of minutes in each. It is important to have three distinct spaces to work in. That could mean three chairs or three different parts of a room.

The change of location is necessary because in each space you will be asked to close your eyes (if that helps) and to think, feel, see, hear and speak as the person that you are representing. Representing yourself is obviously the simplest position and we begin there, with your view of the conflict and the behavior of the other person.

Then you move to second position. You will need to suspend all judgement whilst you take the time to 'go into character' as the other person. This is the position where you are likely to spend the longest, as it is the hardest. You are NOT being asked to do a comic impression of the person, but instead to work on the assumption that there are indeed positive intentions behind this person's behavior and to try to articulate these from the other person's perspective.

The job of the facilitator, if there is one, is to ask specific questions.

In second position, for example the facilitator should ask: 'Looking at the 'person' in the other chair, can you see why they acted in the way that they did? Is there any advice that you could give them, from this perspective, on how to handle the situation differently?' Then once the person has come out of second position, they should ask if they learned anything about themselves.

The facilitator should also be aware if the participant is projecting their upset on to the second position and gently insist on occupying that person's shoes for the duration of the exercise.

Whilst in third position, the facilitator should introduce it as a neutral observer or 'fly on the wall' position and ask them to comment on what they saw, heard and felt when 'watching' the two other positions and if they can offer any advice to first position about how to handle the situation differently. Finally the facilitator should ask the participant to go back to first position and ask if they feel any differently now and how they might act on any of their new insights.

A few ground rules:

1. Use three different spaces/chairs.

2. Close your eyes if it helps you to focus.

3. After occupying each position, take a short break, walk around and come back to your normal state before moving on

4. Discuss what you may have objectively learned about the other position after each stage.

5. Finally, go back to first position and integrate the learnings.

Meetings and Conflict Resolution Activities


My belief is that there should always be three people in conflict resolution activities as there should always be three positions in the above exercise. Hopefully, it will now be clear why this is the case. The third person needs to be able to facilitate or mediate in the conflict and introduce the third, objective position into the discussion. It is only someone who was not involved in the initial conflict, who can introduce another point of view without being seen as biased. If that person also knows the pupil, then all the better.

The teacher should if possible, make an effort to demonstrate that they have thought about the intentions behind the misbehavior and have separated the behavior from the individual. Think of these meetings as possibly your only opportunity to create a lasting rapport with this pupil, thereby reducing the level of conflict and poor behavior in your lessons. Remember that when surveyed, the majority of pupils cite 'a good relationship with their teacher' as being the most important aspect of their school experience. Feeling that a teacher 'hates you' puts you in the mood for revenge. 'A good relationship' does not mean no boundaries or respect. It simply means that the pupil feels acknowledged and appreciated as an individual. Focus on the positive but be clear on your insistence on firm boundaries and expectations.

The facilitator should have the least to do and say in the meeting. The most useful role for a facilitator in conflict resolution activities, is that of an advocate for the pupil. This may seem illogical at first but the pupil may well see this meeting as 'two against one' and become defensive as a result. Being an advocate for them is paradoxically, the easiest way by far of encouraging to take responsibility for their behavior and apologize for it. Taking this role, may surprise the pupil and lead them away from the more common 'them against us' position.

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