Dealing With Damaging Conflict

Conflict within a committee or organisation occasionally blows up publicly, but more usually eats steadily away under the surface, draining the enthusiasm of those involved.

If allowed to persist, damaging conflict can harm the ability of the organisation to fulfil its mission.  They can put off potential funders and donors, placing the organisation's finances at risk and damaging the organisation's reputation.  As a result, staff and volunteers can become demoralised and service users or beneficiaries can be placed at risk.

So what can be done?

By the time you ask this question, the conflict is likely to have persisted for some time and become damaging.  You may have already tried several options to help resolve the situation.  This is the point at which you need to take stock and develop a strategy for your committee or organisation.

Some of this material draws on NCVO's online guidance for trustees in England and Wales.  It has been adapted for use here with their kind permission.

It is unlikely that there is a single straightforward option open to you which will have an immediate impact, completely resolving the situation.  Rather, you will need to adopt a combination of approaches over a period of time, dealing with both the conflict and the resulting fallout.

The exact measures which you choose will be specific to your circumstances, challenges and the personalities concerned.  Some are not appropriate for more serious or entrenched conflict situations.  Please consider these carefully before choosing your approach.  Click here for details of organisations who can provide you with support and advice.

Whatever your circumstances, the following pointers may be helpful:

  1. Be reasonable
  2. Avoid point scoring
  3. Confirm what's really at the root of the conflict
  4. Try to identify a win-win solution (something in it for everyone)
  5. Leave a way out for the individuals concerned
  6. Follow procedure, where possible
  7. Seek help if and when required
  8. Focus on the best interests of the organisation.

Use the resources below for suggestions on specific measures and approaches for addressing conflict:

Quick Reference