Alison and Sian, both members of LCNC 's management team, have trained with Seeds for Change, to support groups dealing with conflict. This is not a full mediator role but a first port of call for groups in conflict, particularly Radical Routes co-ops. As part of the this work Alison has written the article below.
Destigmatising Conflict, some thoughts
In Seeds for Change’s excellent booklet ‘Working with Conflict in our Groups: A guide for grassroots activists’ we are encouraged to see conflict as ‘an opportunity to make positive changes that will make life better for all involved in the long run’ so why does the thought of dealing with conflict have people running for the door, hiding under the table or sticking their fingers in their ears and saying ‘lalalala’? Maybe a part of the answer lies in the stigma that surrounds conflict.
The dictionary definition of destigmatise is ‘ remove associations of shame or disgrace from’.
We all carry shame to differing degrees and it is something that we typically shy away from disclosing to others, preferring to keep it secret. We fear that if people get to learn about these parts of us that they will see us as unlovable or worth less.
How is this shame we feel related to how we behave in/deal with conflict situations? Well, there is no such thing as one way conflict, there have to be at least two parties suffering. I think that each of us knows on some level that we have a part, however small or large, in the development of any conflict situation that we are involved in. We may be so uncomfortable and ashamed about this that we deny it, putting the blame squarely on the other party/ies or maybe we evaluate and decide that the other party started it or has done the most or worst harm and so we justify hiding our shame from others and ourselves.
So we don’t want to be exposed as partly responsible for the conflict: the shame, the embarrassment, aaaaarghh, it can be excruciating (personal experience)... We don’t want to acknowledge our part, all those unhelpful behaviours, such as avoidance, denial and blaming, rear their heads. Do you have awareness of your own tricky behaviours in conflict situations?
Maybe getting rid of some of this shame around conflict may make it easier to deal with.
What gets rid of shame? Shining the light of empathy and compassion on ourselves and others makes a big difference; we all make mistakes and get things ‘wrong’. If you look hard you will find somewhere in your life when you did or are doing something similar or even just have wanted to or thought of doing what the other party is doing - look for a connection with others instead of the disconnection.
We can learn to be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes, recognising that they are mistakes, we are always doing our best.
We can learn/practise good listening and other communication skills, consensus (how well do you do it? Could you do with more training - a refresher maybe?) so we can create safer spaces for people to be honest and open.
Being willing to be open and honest (it may take some courage) about conflict in our groups and co-ops opens the door for other people to share and lets others know they are not alone. Shame can't survive out in the open if it's heard with empathy.
Why not learn some tools for dealing with conflict when there is none - why wait? Maybe it’s as important as your business plans and primary rules: we could prioritise communication and conflict resolution in the same way. Conflict is a part of life with other people.
Is conflict an opportunity for growth, compassion and the strengthening of groups, or a destructive force that separates and weakens us?
Just some thoughts.