Accepting conflict in group meetings is inevitable and dealing with it is a fact of life for every facilitator, including those involved with the current dispute between London Underground and the four main Tube workers’ unions supporting the industrial action.

Understanding the differences between debate and argument is critical. Health debate is essential. A group that doesn’t express differences of opinion is incapable of making effective decisions. Unhealthy arguments however, lead to disaster!

So with this in mind, use these 5 Top Tips to facilitate through conflict:-

1.Debate V Argument

In healthy debates, participants…

–        Are open to hearing each other’s ideas

–        Listen and respond to ideas, even if they don’t agree

–        Try to understand the views of the other person

–        Stay objective and focus on the facts

–        Adopt a systematic approach to analysing the situation and looking for solutions

In unhealthy arguments, participants…

–        Assume they are right

–        State their own ideas without responding to the ideas of others

–        Are not interested in how the other person sees the situation

–        Get personally blamed and attacked

–        Thrash out topics in an ad hoc and unstructured way

2.Facilitator techniques

–        Totally neutral

–        Point out differences so they are understood

–        Insist that people listen to each other

–        Have ground rules – use them politely

–        Ask people to paraphrase each other’s ideas

–        Check for concerns

–        Make sure people focus on the facts

–        Problem solve concerns

–        Invite and face feedback

–        Facilitate assertively

–        Get closure and move on

Facilitator techniques…that allow for unhealthy arguments

–        Join the argument

–        Ignore differences, hoping they will go away

–        Ignore that no one is listening to anyone

–        Let people be rude

–        Allow people to make assumptions

–        Sidestep hot issues

–        Let people get personal

–        Get defensive

–        Squash dissent

–        Stand by passively or react aggressively

–        Let it drag on

3.Resolving issues – avoiding

There are 5 basic responses you can choose from (once emotions have been vented), in order to resolve the underlying issue…


Avoiding doesn’t deal with the issue. Avoiding is ignoring the conflict in the hope that it will go away, i.e. maintaining silence or trying to change the subject.

When can it be used?

In the 10% of situations when issues can’t be resolved profitably.


Accommodating just smoothes things over.

Accommodating is asking people to be more tolerant and accept other people’s views; asking them to get along; it sometimes involves asking one person to give in to the other.

When to use it?

Only in those 5% of situations where keeping the peace is more important than finding a solution.


Compromising helps to find the middle ground between highly polarised views.

Compromising is asking each person to give up some of what they want in order to get the other things they think are more important.

When to use it?

In those 20% of situations when faced with opposing choices.

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