Skills for the Job: Resolving conflict

Youth workers need to understand the ingredients of conflict to help resolve the issue, writes Leap Confronting Conflict's Peta Boucher.

Why does conflict matter?

Ninety-nine per cent of young people are not involved in serious youth violence, gang membership, weapon carrying or antisocial behaviour. But for the one per cent that are, it takes a good youth practitioner with experience in conflict management to work effectively with them.

Conflict is not necessarily destructive. In fact, it is a vital part of life and often drives valuable change. But destructive conflict if ignored or repressed can lead to social isolation, exclusion or violence.

Conflict is inevitable but how it is resolved is crucial.

What are the ingredients of conflict?

At Leap, we use the fire analogy and relate it to conflict. It starts with the fuel, then a spark, the fire starts to smoulder, flames get fanned, the fire gets stoked and the blaze starts.

Think about a conflict you once had with somebody and ask yourself some key questions around the experience and the people you were involved with and why you were there and the role you played. You will find there are some common characteristics:

People. The essential ingredient for conflict. Who are you in conflict with and where do you stand? Explore your own position in the conflict – what forms the basis for your argument? What are your triggers? How did you feel? What emotions did you display?

The incident. What was it all about? What's your take on it and your perception? Your own and theirs. Did you walk away and then what happened?

The brooding. The things you never said, the things you might have said, the smouldering and the unexpressed feelings and thoughts. Who or what is influencing you?

Aggravation. Who else became involved? What effect did this have? Maybe your feelings of hate and judgment were endorsed.

Escalation. What made the situation even worse? For example, the social pressures, the environment you mixed in, the background to it all. What was the result of this escalation – isolation, disaffection, prejudice?

Consequence. Your conflict still exists. Permanent damage exists; everybody that was involved is touched because of it. What was the consequence of your conflict?

When you understand the analogy and start to unpick it you will find alternative ways of solving the issues or conflicts. Challenge the fixed positions, the perceptions, the so-called facts. You will find a new story – choice, a set of new thoughts and emotions, a different set of consequences – not your story.

How do you bring about a resolution?

As a practitioner facing a conflict situation, you might want to reflect on what your role should be. You have a choice to make the situation better or worse, which will depend on how you behave:

Choice. Assessing the situation is the first action to take, and if you feel in danger then remove yourself from the conflict. If you feel you want to continue it is important to establish what the conflict is, how it has manifested itself, and who it is aimed at.

Your language. To gain a wider understanding of the conflict try using simple "I" statements and requests, no blame language, which will help defuse the conflict and will allow a conversation to take place. Shouting and being angry will only inflame the situation, allowing the conflict to become the dominant feature so that it might not be resolved properly.

To become an effective practitioner you need to practise some of these conversations. Anyone can help defuse a conflict situation but only the skilful will address the underlying issues that sparked the conflict in the first place.

Peta Boucher, director of delivery, Leap Confronting Conflict



Leap Confronting Conflict provides training in conflict management for young people and professionals. Leap's Playing with Fire training manual has recently been reprinted. It is a structured manual and training programme to help youth sector workers engage young people caught up in conflict and violence. You can buy copies of the manual for £29.99.

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