Conflict Resolution

People are complex and messy. When we work with people, we need to expect that the work will also be complex and messy. Rarely will a project or an activity go exactly as planned and often we need to adapt.

Conflict within any group is normal – whether it be a group of participants or colleagues or even across services. We value diversity and diversity means differences – in opinions, skills, knowledge, working styles and experiences

The following video outlines some of the common challenges and dilemmas CD workers face.

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People are messy; therefore, relationships will be messy. Don’t be surprised by messiness.

– Timothy Keller

Conflict is an opportunity

Community development is not for the faint of heart, in fact, it requires a lot of heart.

As a community development worker we need to be able to feel comfort in discomfort. Working in community development inevitably means you will be dealing with conflict and tensions surrounding different ideas, opinions and world views. To manage these conflicts well, we need to be prepared to stand in uncomfortable spaces while ensuring all voices have an opportunity to speak and be heard. We need to feel okay about not knowing or having all of the answers. It is important that we see conflict as an opportunity to learn, grow and change the situation.

Self-Awareness in Conflict Resolution

The way that we handle conflict is usually determined partly by our personality and partly by our experiences. We all have a style that is our default but we can consciously change the way that we manage conflict through self-awareness and reflective practice. There are many theories around conflict management styles. Each style can be both helpful and unhelpful depending on the importance of the goal and the importance of the relationship. Some styles commonly referred to include:

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Ignoring your needs and wants to give the other person what they want or need.

HELPFUL: to settle small disagreements quickly.

UNHELPFUL: if used too often you can appear weak.
Ignoring the conflict all together.

HELPFUL: if you believe a cooling off period is needed before dealing with the situation.

UNHELPFUL: avoiding conflict over time can lead to bigger conflicts later on.
Finding a way where both sides get can get some of what they want.

HELPFUL: when it is important to have a quick solution rather than a great one.

UNHELPFUL: when you need all parties to be happy and onboard with the solution.
Finding a solution that makes everyone happy.

HELPFUL: when you need everyone to be onboard with the solution.

UNHELPFUL: when there is a time limit - this approach takes the most time!
Getting what you want or need and ignoring the wants and needs of others.

HELPFUL: when compromise cannot occur, such as in the case of upholding rights or a moral decision.

UNHELPFUL: can cause further conflict and lower morale. This style must be used in moderation.
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A Moment of Reflection...

  • Which conflict style do you think is your default?
  • Think of a time when your conflict style did not result in a positive outcome. Did you not reach your goal? Was a relationship damaged?
  • Which conflict style might have been better suited to the situation?

Share your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom of this page.

Group Conflict Norms

In the 60’s a psychologist named Bruce Tucker coined the terms “forming, storming, norming and performing” in regards to small groups. His theory proposed that these were common stages that small groups went through when forming and becoming productive.

Community development workers may find themselves a leader of a group or a participant in a group. This theory is useful to know in both roles!

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The group are still becoming familiar with each other. They are polite, enthusiastic and shy. They usually look to the leader for direction.


A state of flow where goals are met. The leader can relax as their team works openly with each other.


The group become relaxed and their more annoying behaviours become obvious. Conflict is likely to occur here.


A stage where a group's goals have been met and they go their separate ways. A time of reflection and celebration.


The group become a team, working together to overcome accept different viewpoints and find resolutions to issues.

Generally speaking, teams will move through these stages chronologically. But we know that people are messy and sometimes there can be movement forwards, backwards and in between each stage. For example, if you have a group in the norming stage and a new person joins, the group may slip back to storming as they establish their new norms.

Keep monitoring your groups – the ones you lead and the ones you are part of.


Extend Your Learning

Understanding the stage your group is at according to Tuckman, can help you set goals to move forward. Check out MIT’s article which identifies the feelings, behaviours and team tasks for each stage.

Enjoying the course so far? Buy the course or the full Getting Started in Community Development package.

  1. Tuckman, B.W. (1965). Developmental Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6).

View this Conflict Management Styles article which includes a short quiz to help you determine your default style. It also gives a brief overview of how to manage conflict as a leader.

View this article from MIT discussing Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development including how to identify characteristics and ways forward for each stage.

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