“I still believe that if we turn to one another, if we begin talking with each other – especially with those we call stranger or enemy – then this world can reverse its darkening direction and change for the good. And I know with all my heart that the only way the world will change is if many more of us step forward, let go of our judgments, become curious about each other, and take the risk to begin a conversation.”  … Margaret Wheatley

I got a message recently from a friend asking if I knew of any articles about what to do with conflict fall out in a group.  In that message, inspiration hit.  What would I say?

Have you ever been in a group, workplace, community – where someone left and their leaving caused hurt feelings, especially if they perhaps “didn’t go quietly?”

This is something I deal with in my work as a mediator, as I get called into groups or workplaces when someone has left (quit, fired, sick leave).  There are many “feelings” and because of gossip, the person and their imprint has actually not left at all.

So, that is the first thing I would say from my experience:  acknowledge that something truly is going on here.  We have such an aversion to conflict, we want to avoid it like the plague, so we don’t recognize the signs in our own intuitive knowing.

If you think there’s a conflict lingering, tell yourself you are right!

Once you validate that the conflict did not go away, just because the person did (and this is a huge step), the next step is to bring the conflict out in the open.

This is scary!  Most of us don’t have the shared language to engage in these kind of conversations in a way that feels safe to our feelings.  Without safety, we won’t get far.  Just like cells in a petri dish, when we put threat into the petri dish in the form of a toxin, the cells automatically migrate over to the borders of the petri dish.  No one wants to be hurt – we are all programmed to survive and live.  It’s that simple, really.

So, what can we do to engage in the conversations in a way that promotes safety?

Well, that’s the subject of my whole career!

To boil it all down to one short tip is a challenge, and, here is my offering:  one of the most impactful things one can do is speak from the heart.  Call together a meeting of those left behind, say you’d like everyone to speak and listen from their hearts about 3 agenda items:

  1. What happened (from the speaker’s point of view)?
  2. Who has been affected by what happened and how (including the speaker)?
  3. What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?

Take these three questions one at a time.  Do a “round” with each question, and use a talking piece.  When the person is holding the talking piece, they have the floor. Remind people regularly to listen from their hearts and to speak from their hearts.

Do the first round with the first question.  Then, depending on time, you can do a “witness” round on the same question.  That is, once everyone has heard everyone else on the topic, there may be more to add.  Allow for that if you can. Then go on to the second question, same process. And the third question. 

Make sure everyone agrees at the start that they will speak and listen from the heart and also that they will respect the talking piece (they will not talk when someone has it and they will not ask to take it if ti’s not their turn and not going in the circle to their turn).

There are lots of variations of this form, and in a short article, I want to deliver it to you short and sweet and with the highest chances of succeeding.

Gordon White and I are also working on a course on how to have Difficult Conversations that can stand as a unifying factor for a community.  Taking a course together and talking about its contents can help people realize where they can up their game regarding communicating and how they can bring more safety to the community by how they communicate. 

Hope this article can give you some insights on what to do next if you have some conflict fall-out in one of your micro communities  We all need each other and connection, now more than ever! 

And, if you have any feedback, insights or comments, I want to hear!  Please comment!  Thank you for reading!