Conflict occurs in all interpersonal relationships, and effectively addressing conflict is crucial to supporting healthy working and learning environments. It is an important tool in standing up to injustice and supporting our commitments and values.
As part of the It Starts With Us series, the Office of Respectful Environments, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) partnered with UBC’s Conflict Theatre and the Equity & Inclusion Office to explore approaches to Conflict Engagement in a three-part event series.
What Is Conflict Engagement?
Conflict Engagement refers to any activities meant to address conflict. Approaches that view conflict as something negative, unwanted, and harmful can lead to ignoring the reality of conflict and its root causes. Instead, Conflict Engagement aims to reframe our approach to conflict in a more positive way. Conflict Engagement sees conflict as arising from failures to communicate authentically and productively, or from situations where systems and structures fail to support individuals.
Tips for Conflict Engagement
Tips for everyone:
- Change doesn’t happen in one conversation. You may need to approach the issue multiple times in different settings
- Remind the person you are talking to that you are on their side, and that the conversation is about facilitating a better relationship, rather than identifying who is right or wrong
- If appropriate, describe patterns you have observed in past attempts to address the conflict
Tips for leaders for how to address conflict:
- Read resistance as wisdom struggling to be heard. Avoid defensiveness, and recognize that resistance is a sign of something under the surface, and that hearing it is helpful in addressing it
- Pay attention to jokes and gossip. Be open to jokes and gossip, and try to understand possible underlying messaging
- Encourage sharing of opinions early and often. Encourage open dialogue so that issues can be raised while they’re still small and manageable
- Invite resistance, including by modeling your own resistance
- Make it safe to disagree
Tips for dissenters:
- Bring the wisdom – the dissent – to the surface, as early and as often as possible, so it can be engaged with by the majority
- Use dissent in a productive way, to engage with, or improve things for, the entire group
- Package the wisdom so that it can be heard
- Take care of yourself first
- When a situation keeps you absolutely voiceless, consider moving on so your talents can be used elsewhere
Conflict Engagement Through Conflict Theatre
UBC’s Conflict Theatre uses interactive methods to approach and practice difficult conversations. Drawing from real-life experiences, Conflict Theatre creates plays that aim to describe archetypal kinds of conflict that occur across the university.
As the play unfolds, audience members are invited to intervene at moments that resonate with them to explore opportunities to change the way the interactions unfold. Through the intervention, audience members are able to actively apply different strategies to addressing real-life conflicts.
The goal of Conflict Theatre is not to reach an agreement on the right way to approach conflict. Instead, it creates opportunities to:
- Learn strategies to foster authentic and productive communication
- See conflict from multiple perspectives, and develop empathy with others
- Foster positive approaches to conflict, rather than ones that come from a place of avoidance, confrontation, or anxiety
- Consider one’s own perspectives, emotions, and experiences, and how they influence one’s behaviour
- Understand why conflicts emerge, what perpetuates them, and how one can negotiate conflicts
- Be sensitive to systems and processes that generate conflict, and where there may be opportunities for intervention
If you’re interested in learning more about Conflict Engagement or Conflict Theatre, please contact REDI.